Tuesday, April 09, 2013

This Kind Can Come Out Only With Prayer... And Drugs

I had a conversation with a woman at a conference a few years ago who was shunned within her church because she suffered from depression and required medication. She was told that her faith was not strong enough and that there must have been some hidden sin that she was refusing to repent of. She was in near-tears as she described how hard it was to even continue in a church fellowship.

Photo credit: Alaina Abplanalp Photography
Although I couldn't specifically relate, I did know from experience that some things require more than just prayer and fasting to overcome. When I was in campus ministry, there was a brother who was bi-polar (oh how that word means so much more to me now than it did then). He was joyful, serving, and although socially awkward he wasn't unpleasant to be around... so long as he was on his medications. When he'd go off he would typically disappear for a couple of weeks only to turn up again as if nothing happened. Except one time.

I lived only a couple of blocks away from our campus minister on a fairly busy street. Late one night I was working on homework when I heard outside my window someone cussing and cursing and threatening to kill our campus minister. He called him out by name. I was scared, worried he thought our house was his. Because it was dark outside we couldn't see who it was or tell from where it was coming from. Turns out it was this brother, off his medication. Thank God nothing happened, but it just goes to show how quickly these conditions can lead to violence.

Another, more tragic incident, occurred when someone chose to stop taking their medications because of how it made this person feel. When off, this person was more outgoing and more joyful, but was almost amped up too much. One Sunday morning we were waiting for this person to show up to help usher, but this person never did. This person passed away in their sleep. (And there is much, much more to tell of this story- but it hits too close to home still, so many years later)

And if those personal anecdotes don't drive home the point, I strongly encourage you to read this post from Wendy Murray over at Patheos. She has similar stories, similar experiences, but they are her own- a pastor's wife who relies on medications to get through the day.

Ed Setzer in his terrific post on CNN, notes that churches need to embrace that medications are ok. In fact, I like how he puts is: "we should not be afraid of medicine." Mental illness is not solely a spiritual affliction and taking medication is not a sign someone is weak. I do believe there are spiritual components to it, but that does not negate the genetic, biological, chemical, and neurological imperfections that measurably exist. "This demon can only be driven out by prayer [and fasting]." (Mark 9:29, HCB) I believe if Jesus were alive today he might add "and strong psychotropic drugs".

But drugs are not the only answer. A lot of research has gone into the effects of food additives and the body's positive reaction to natural vitamins and stimulants like vitamin B, omega 3s, and caffeine. (A sampling from my family's bookshelf: What's Eating Your Child and Potatoes not Prozac)

Besides nutrition faith, hope and love are also necessary to provide a supportive environment to those suffering from mental illnesses. Talk to any parent having to deal with their child coming down from their ADHD medication at the end of the day and imagine them persevering without love. Relate to any parent fighting their local school districts for accommodations for their child with ASD and wonder how they can do so without faith. And for those suffering, it is impossible for me to understand how anyone can survive these maladies without hope.

Yet despite healthy doses of faith, hope, and love plus counseling, medications, and changes to diet there are still casualties like Matthew Warren. I cannot minimize his loss with a hand-wave of "if Pastor Rick had only done such and such or so and so..." So again I bang my drum: mental illness is real; so how can the church help the many of us who are affected?

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