sorry for the absence. since i posted last i changed jobs, and have been dealing with some stressful stuff. the new job is much more physical and i just haven’t felt like spending much time on the computer. sorry about that!
i posted some thoughts over there, but thought i should share them here, too. here are abraham’s questions:
1. If antidepressants help with a physical malfunction in the brain, how come so many people treat them as a last resort? We don’t attempt to talk away problems in other parts of our body–athlete’s foot, stomach flu, throat cancer, etc.–before we use medication.
2. On the other hand, if depression is a physical malady, why is it diagnosed with conversations in an office rather than tests in a lab?
I’m not trying to make any kind of point with these questions. I’m genuinely curious (and ignorant).
and my answers:
1. stigma, stigma, stigma. and probably pride, too, in some cases. our country stigmatizes those with mental illness to such an extent that you have to fear for your job if your mental illness comes out, or worry that people will be afraid of you, or marginalize you. and that’s if they believe your sick! many people think mental illness is a crutch, an excuse, a cop out, something that only happens to the weak, etc. who wants to be slapped with those labels?
then there is the stigma for Christians: “you aren’t trusting God; you don’t have enough faith; you are in sin. if you just read your Bible more and prayed more, you’d be fine. mental illness is a hoax, etc.” yes, mental illness symptoms and sin look alike some times. yes, you can feel depressed as a result of conviction. but, those things are totally different from the real physical problem of mental illness. it’s a big risk for a Christian to “come out” as mentally ill. and depending on the home/church they grew up in, and/or the church they currently attend, it can be even harder. they may not be able to admit illness because they are convinced that it’s a spiritual weakness and not a physical ailment.
i love this question, because this question is THE question we should be getting out there. look at the effects of sin in the world around us and in our bodies! why on earth would we think that our brains would be exempt from those effects and not capable of illness? we would not condemn a Christian diabetic that takes insulin as spiritually deficient; why do we do that to Christians with mental illness???
2. the brain is likely the most complicated part of our anatomy and one that we understand the least, especially it’s chemical processes, and those are the ones responsible for mental illness. because of this, there is currently no physical test (blood, etc.) to diagnose mental illness. we know that two different people can function well with two completely different levels of serotonin (main neurotransmitter related to depression) and we don’t know if there is a minimum floor level of serotonin needed to avoid depression. however, my doctors tell me that there is research going on to attempt to develop a test like you described.
more importantly, we need to remember that all these fancy diagnostic tests that we have now were almost nonexistent 30+ years ago, and doctors were still treating patients. how did they do this? by talking to them in their offices about their symptoms. by observing them and examining them. the same holds for mental illness. psychiatrists talk to patients about their symptoms, ask questions about how they are functioning in their lives, observe their physicality (speed of speech, fidgeting, posture, etc.) all looking for clues to what is going on in their brains.
because we’ve never lived without these fancy tests, it can be easy for us to dismiss any diagnosis that can’t be measured by a blood test, but the era of this kind of testing is a blip on the history of medicine. they are wonderful tools, but they are not everything.
i also added a few thoughts in other replies. on my shame about my illness:
i was ashamed that i couldn’t get my spiritual life together enough so that i wouldn’t want to kill myself anymore. i was ashamed that i couldn’t work hard enough to fix it, that i was such a failure.
i was drowning in those thoughts for years before i pulled into my friend’s drive way and “heard” God say to me as clear as i have ever “heard” Him: “let me love you. LET ME LOVE YOU. let me love you with these medications that I have helped humans develop. RECEIVE MY LOVE, whatever form it takes.”
i couldn’t really argue with that. 🙂
on the treatment of mental illness:
i have bipolar type II and my major feature tends to be depression. about 6 years ago, the worst depressive epidsode of my life began. it was like falling off a cliff. it is only in the last year that i have begun feeling better in an kind of consistent way. all this to say, i know the misery.
what i have learned though is that mental illness for most people cannot be treated like other illnesses. in the same way that you don’t treat a cold like cancer. each illness, each person, needs to be treated in they way they best respond to.
i used to think that because mental illness is a physical illness, that if i just got on the right combination of medications, i would be 100% well and back to normal. now i realize that medication is only part of the treatment. i need medication and counseling from professionals. i also need to work on combating my negative thought patterns. i need to talk to my friends and family about how i’m feeling. i need to talk to God about how i’m feeling. i need to read my Bible and pray. i need to remember all that i have to be thankful for.
i’m not sick because i didn’t do any of those things. i’m sick because my body is broken in a fallen world. i’m sick because of genetics and chemistry. and i aggravated the problems already caused by my genetics with the drugs i took before i was saved.
i do all of these things because they are each weapons in my arsenal against this illness. they are tools to help me increase my coping skills so that i can better cope with my illness, because it can’t be cured by science. unless God chooses to heal me, i have to endure. and i need all the help i can get to do it.
what are your thoughts?