In dealing with the topic of mental illness quite often we learn of the importance of medication that allows people to live healthy and vibrant lives. This article points out the reality of drug overdoses due to anxiety medication. Allan
Taken from NBC News which is found HERE.
More Americans than ever are overdosing on anxiety drugs, researchers reported Thursday — and it’s not clear why.
The new study finds not only that more Americans are taking the drugs, which include brand names such as Valium and Xanax, but that they’re taking more of them.
But while the quantity of prescriptions filled tripled between 1996 and 2013, the number of overdoses quadrupled during the same period, the team reported in the American Journal of Public Health.
“We found that the death rate from overdoses involving benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos,’ has increased more than four-fold since 1996 — a public health problem that has gone under the radar,” said Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who helped lead the study.
“Overdoses from benzodiazepines have increased at a much faster rate than prescriptions for the drugs, indicating that people have been taking them in a riskier way over time.”
Benzodiazepines are extremely popular drugs in the U.S.
More than 5 percent of U.S. adults fill a benzodiazepine prescription every year, for conditions such as anxiety, mood disorders and insomnia.
They’re known to be highly addictive and, in 2013, nearly a third of the 23,000 people who died from prescription drug overdoses were taking them.
Bachhuber’s team looked at large health surveys to find trends in their use and abuse.
“The rate of overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines increased more than four-fold from 0.58 per 100,000 adults to 3.07 per 100 000 adults,” they wrote. “However, this rate appeared to plateau after 2010.”
“Between 1996 and 2013, the number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent, from 8.1 million to 13.5 million,” they added.
They found a similarly large increase in the number of pills each adult was prescribed.
It’s not clear why overdoses went up so much. It could be people are taking the drugs for longer times, raising the odds that they’ll eventually overdose. Or it could be the pills are getting to people who don’t have prescriptions, the researchers wrote.
I received an e-mail from Melanie several days ago. I don’t know her but she asked me to consider posting this article on my blog. I Thought for a long time deciding that a woman sharing her life in all honesty from where she is right now could encourage others. So for the first time I am posting an article sent to me via e-mail. Please keep Melanie in your prayers as it’s clear she has a heart for God. We’re all in this together. Allan
Melanie Valdivieso- Anxiety Stole My Personality – for a Season
Christ has set my soul free – Hallelujah! This truth shall forevermore stand. But on this earth and in this body, I have a mental illness: anxiety, plus a dash of depression. An invisible enemy, stigmatized as either lunacy or mental weakness – it has stolen my personality and threatens me with doubt. I fret over the future and plan for crises that never happen. My chest grows heavy, my vision blurs, and my head spins. My time is consumed with regulating breathing and my heartbeat. All I want is to get out from under the blanket that suppresses who I really am.
Ironically, I held a very stressful job that I LOVED; I was a high school English teacher. Indeed, I was going to teach for the rest of my life – with the help of meds of course. Oh, that glorious moment during my second year of teaching when I realized that I was free to be myself because I had found the right medication. Then the rollercoaster ride of bodily changes started: my brain would grow accustomed to the medication and quit responding to it, or my body would grow a brand new human being or two. Every few years I needed to readjust or change my prescription, the challenges and rewards of teaching captivated me again, and on I persevered.
Then the 2015 school year started, and I experienced my worst episode of anxiety. Logic takes a flying leap when you can’t breathe, focus your eyesight, or stand in a crowd of people, so it didn’t occur to me that I needed to see the doctor about changing my prescription. By the time logic did manage to squeak through the cracks of my troubled mind, it was too late. My love of teaching had deserted me, and the best I could muster was babysitting the students. After nine years of teaching, I was so tired of having to fight my body and my mind to do my job, so I quit at the end of October.
As you can well imagine, the lies of the enemy nagged at me everyday during this season of transition, and I allowed them a seat in my heart. Specifically, the master lie that took the throne was that I had failed. My husband’s denial of my mental illness heaped upon the guilt and shame of quitting a career to which I devoted myself left me floundering for purpose. I had failed miserably to pick myself up through strength of will and support my family financially.
However, the Lord of the Universe says that I am not a failure. He states it over and over again in Scripture.
2 Corinthians 6:18 – I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
I am a daughter of the King. Anxiety and depression are physical problems, albeit they manifest as emotional symptoms, but that doesn’t change me being a princess. I had lots of fun teaching as God’s daughter, and now He is humbling me for other services.
Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
First and foremost, since Jesus doesn’t condemn me, I shouldn’t presume to condemn myself. Secondly, mental illness is NOT a sin. Finally, the choice to quit was a healthy choice, and God definitely supports health!
Isaiah 54:5 – For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
How to react to my husband when in moments of anger he says deprecating things to me? Now I know; my Maker is my eternal Husband. I will listen to what He has to say about these trying times by respecting His commands to be Christlike.
Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Psalm 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
This is God’s sovereignty! I have faith that either God allowed this ordeal to occur so that I can focus on a new ministry, or He is just so powerful that He turned something horrible into something that glorifies Him. Either way, I give my injury to Him and He transforms it into beauty.
After coming through as a whole person, I praise God for His mercies, which don’t depend upon my feelings. God’s Word is the truth that stands forevermore, and through each episode of anxiety in my life, the truth is internalized more and more.
February 12. 2016
Taken from the New York Times which is found HERE.
Sitting at the heart of much anxiety and fear is emotional memory — all the associations that you have between various stimuli and experiences and your emotional response to them. Whether it’s the fear of being embarrassed while talking to strangers (typical of social phobia) or the dread of being attacked while walking down a dark street after you’ve been assaulted (a symptom of PTSD), you have learned that a previously harmless situation predicts something dangerous.
It has been an article of faith in neuroscience and psychiatry that, once formed, emotional memories are permanent. Afraid of heights or spiders? The best we could do was to get you to tolerate them, but we could never really rid you of your initial fear. Or so the thinking has gone.
The current standard of treatment for such phobias revolves around exposure therapy. This involves repeatedly presenting the feared object or frightening memory in a safe setting, so that the patient acquires a new safe memory that resides in his brain alongside the bad memory. As long as the new memory has the upper hand, his fear is suppressed. But if he is re-traumatized or re-exposed with sufficient intensity to the original experience, his old fear will awaken with a vengeance.
This is one of the limitations of exposure therapy, along with the fact that it generally works in only about half of the PTSD patients who try it. Many also find it upsetting or intolerable to relive memories of assaults and other traumatizing experiences.
We urgently need more effective treatments for anxiety disorders. What if we could do better than creating a new safe memory — and actually get rid of emotions attached to the old bad one?
New research suggests that it may be possible not just to change certain types of emotional memories, but even to erase them. We’ve learned that memories are uniquely vulnerable to alteration at two points: when we first lay them down, and later, when we retrieve them.
Merel Kindt, a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, and her colleagues have seemingly erased the emotional fear response in healthy people with arachnophobia. For a study published last month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, she compared three groups made up of 45 subjects in total. One group was exposed to a tarantula in a glass jar for two minutes, and then given a beta-blocker called propranolol that is commonly prescribed to patients for performance anxiety; one was exposed to the tarantula and given a placebo; and one was just given propranolol without being shown the spider, to rule out the possibility that propranolol by itself could decrease spider fear.
Dr. Kindt assessed the subjects’ anxiety when they were shown the spider the first time, then again three months later, and finally after a year. What she found was remarkable. Those who got the propranolol alone and those who got the placebo had no improvement in their anxiety. But the arachnophobes who were exposed to the spider and given the drug were able to touch the tarantula within days and, by three months, many felt comfortable holding the spider with their bare hands. Their fear did not return even at the end of one year.
How does this work? Well, propranolol blocks the effects of norepinephrine in the brain. This chemical, which is similar to adrenaline, enhances learning, so blocking it disrupts the way a memory is put back in storage after it is retrieved — a process called reconsolidation.
Arachnophobes have an emotional memory that involves an association between spiders and a dreaded outcome, like a spider bite. This “fear memory” is the source of their phobia — even if (as is often the case) it never actually happened. The basic idea is that when Dr. Kindt briefly exposed the subjects to the spider, she reactivated their fear, which made the fear memory susceptible to the influence of propranolol.
Reconsolidation is a bit like pulling up a file on your computer, rewriting the same material in a bigger, bolder font and saving it again. Disrupting reconsolidation with propranolol or another drug is akin to retrieving this document, erasing some or all of the text and then writing something new in its place.
Dr. Kindt is not the first to demonstrate that disrupting reconsolidation can weaken or erase emotional memories. Several studies of rats done in 2000 showed that a drug called anisomycin, which blocks the synthesis of proteins in the brain, could reduce fear associations. In one, researchers taught rats to fear a sound by pairing it with a shock. After the animals were fear-conditioned, they were presented with the sound and then immediately given the drug. When the animals were exposed to the sound again, they no longer appeared afraid; they had forgotten their original fear.
Curiously, there is a very narrow time window after retrieving a fear memory when you can disrupt that memory — hours, in the animal studies — before it closes and the drug has no effect.
These studies suggest that someday, a single dose of a drug, combined with exposure to your fear at the right moment, could free you of that fear forever. But there’s a flip side to this story about how to undo emotional learning: how to strengthen it. We can do that with drugs as well, and may have been doing it for some time.
ANXIETY enhances emotional memory. We all know that — it’s why you can easily forget where you put your wallet, but will never forget being attacked. This is the case because anxiety leads to the release of norepinephrine in the brain, which, again, strengthens emotional learning. It is also why we should think twice about casually prescribing stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall for young people who really don’t need them. Stimulants also cause the release of norepinephrine and may enhance fear learning. So it is possible that taking stimulants could increase one’s risk of developing PTSD when exposed to trauma.
Indeed, a study that will be published next month found that the escalating use of stimulants by the military in active duty soldiers, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, was strongly correlated with an increase in the rates of PTSD, even when controlling for other factors, like the rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The study examined the use of prescription stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, and the rates of PTSD in nearly 26,000 military service members between 2001 and 2008, and found that the incidence of PTSD increased along with the prescriptions.
By blocking the effect of norepinephrine and disrupting memory reconsolidation, we could perhaps reverse this process. The clear implication of these studies is that emotional memory is not permanent after all.
Before you rush off into a panic about the dystopian possibility of mind control or memory deletion, it’s important to recognize that the procedure in Dr. Kindt’s study only weakened the subjects’ fear memory and avoidant behavior. Although the procedure is able to alter or perhaps delete the fear memory (something exposure therapy cannot do), it does nothing to the factual, or biographical, memory, which remains intact.
This is not “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the movie in which a dysfunctional couple decides to erase their memories of each other and start their lives all over again. To the contrary, you still remember your biography, but your fear would be stripped of its force. The subjects knew perfectly well after the study that they previously feared spiders and that they now — strangely — felt little to no anxiety around them.
If this new approach is effective in other anxiety disorders, like PTSD, you would expect someone who was assaulted in his home to remember the attack perfectly well, but no longer feel afraid of being at home. What’s so bad about that?
It would certainly be superior to exposure therapy, which is far from a permanent fix. Once, while on vacation in Costa Rica, I was standing next to a young man on a zip line platform in a rain forest when he began to hyperventilate. I learned that he had a fear of heights and had had exposure treatment a year before, which he felt had fixed the problem. But now, his old fear was triggered and he was having a full-blown panic attack. I suppose he was lucky to be stuck with a psychiatrist in the jungle; I talked him down the ladder to the ground.
How effective this new memory-disrupting approach will be in treating more serious anxiety disorders like PTSD or panic is unclear. A few preliminary studies using propranolol in PTSD showed mixed results. Some found no effect, but a 2015 review of PTSD treatment studies published in Biological Psychology found that propranolol administered with six brief trauma reactivation sessions significantly improved PTSD symptoms compared with a placebo.
Study results may well change with the development of better methods for administering propranolol or new drugs that are more effective in disrupting memory reconsolidation. Marieke S. Tollenaar, a psychologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who has studied the effects of propranolol on memory, told me that the “final test” would be to “examine in real life whether propranolol in addition to standard exposure treatment procedures would be beneficial. Little has been done there yet; most work is still done experimentally in the lab.”
Some may view any attempt to tamper with human memory as disturbing because it seems at odds with what we ought to do as a culture with the darker aspects of our history: Never alter the facts, even if we have divergent interpretations of them. And it is critical not to destroy places where crimes of humanity and collective trauma took place, like the concentration camps, so we never forget what we have done and remain capable of doing. Fair enough. But I see no reason not to help frightened individuals soften their painful emotional memories.
Some may also argue that it’s a mistake to tinker with our fear responses because they’re natural — they evolved this way for a reason. Like most other animals, we come hard-wired with a flight or fight response along with its associated anxiety and fear. Without this warning system to protect us from predators and other dangers, we’d have been dinner long ago on the savanna.
But what was once adaptive millions of years ago isn’t always so helpful today. People who suffer panic attacks hyperventilate and have an intense desire to flee in situations where there is rarely actual danger. It turns out that panic disorder is associated with an increased sensitivity to carbon dioxide in the brain. If you lived in a cave with a clan of hominid fire-dwellers, you’d have been one of the first to get out when the oxygen supply was dwindling.
Curiously, that might help explain why some people have panic attacks that wake them at night. These patients don’t panic during so-called REM sleep, when dreams occur, but during non-REM sleep, when they are deeply relaxed, when breathing slows, and the levels of carbon dioxide rise, generating a false suffocation alarm.
Evolutionary design has left us a few million years out of date; we are hard-wired for a Paleolithic world, but have to live in a modern one. The irrational fear of anxiety disorders was once probably useful and lifesaving. No longer.
But maybe that modern world can help. I see nothing wrong with doing all we can to rid ourselves of pathological anxiety, including using drugs to alter our painful emotional memories.
Correction: January 22, 2016
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described some of the details of a study. Arachnophobes who were given a drug and exposed to a tarantula were able to touch the spider four days later, not hold them in a jar on Day 1.
Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, and a contributing opinion writer.
Taken from Lifeway Research which is found HERE.
September 22nd, 2014
One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress. But they’re unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.
Most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.
That includes almost half (49 percent) who rarely (39 percent) or never (10 percent), speak about mental illness. About 1in 6 pastors (16 percent) speak about mental illness once a year. And about quarter of pastors (22 percent) are reluctant to help those who suffer from acute mental illness because it takes too much time.
Those are among the findings of a recent study of faith and mental illness by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, co-sponsored by Focus on the Family, was designed to help churches better assist those affected by mental illness.
Researchers looked at three groups for the study.
They surveyed 1,000 senior Protestant pastors about how their churches approaches mental illness. Researchers then surveyed 355 Protestant Americans diagnosed with an acute mental illness—either moderate or severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. Among them were 200 church-goers.
A third survey polled 207 Protestant family members of people with acute mental illness.
Researchers also conducted in-depth interview with 15 experts on spirituality and mental illness.
The study found pastors and churches want to help those who experience mental illness. But those good intentions don’t always lead to action.
“Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.
“But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”
A summary of findings includes a number of what researchers call ‘key disconnects’ including:
- Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness according to pastors. And only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church.
- Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent) according to pastors.
- Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental health resources for church members. But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist.
- Family members (65 percent) and those with mental illness (59 percent) want their church to talk openly about mental illness, so the topic will not be a taboo. But 66 percent of pastors speak to their church once a year or less on the subject.
That silence can leave people feeling ashamed about mental illness, said Jared Pingleton, director of counseling services at Focus on the Family. Those with mental illness can feel left out, as if the church doesn’t care. Or worse, they can feel mental illness is a sign of spiritual failure.
“We can talk about diabetes and Aunt Mable’s lumbago in church—those are seen as medical conditions,” he said. “But mental illness–that’s somehow seen as a lack of faith.”
Most pastors say they know people who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) have counseled people who were later diagnosed.
And pastors themselves aren’t immune from mental illness. About a quarter of pastors (23 percent), say they’ve experienced some kind of mental illness, while 12 percent say they received a diagnosis for a mental health condition.
But those pastors are often reluctant to share their struggles, said Chuck Hannaford, a clinical psychologist and president of HeartLife Professional Soul-Care in Germantown, Tennessee. He was one of the experts interviewed for the project.
Hannaford counsels pastors in his practice and said many – if they have a mental illness like depression or anxiety—won’t share that information with the congregation.
He doesn’t think pastors should share all the details of their diagnosis. But they could acknowledge they struggle with mental illness.
“You know it’s a shame that we can’t be more open about it,” he told researchers. “But what I’m talking about is just an openness from the pulpit that people struggle with these issues and it’s not an easy answer. “
Those with mental illness can also be hesitant to share their diagnosis at church. Michael Lyles, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist, says more than half his patients come from an evangelical Christian background.
“The vast majority of them have not told anybody in their church what they were going through, including their pastors, including small group leaders, everybody,” Lyle said.
Stetzer said what appears to be missing in most church responses is “an open forum for discussion and intervention that could help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.”
“Churches talk openly about cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and other health conditions – they should do the same for mental illness, in order to reduce the sense of stigma,” Stetzer said.
Researchers asked those with mental illness about their experience in church.
- A few – (10 percent)—say they’ve changed churches because of how a particular church responded to their mental illness. Another 13 percent ether stopped attending church (8 percent) or could not find a church (5 percent). More than a third, 37 percent, answered, “don’t know,” when asked how their church’s reaction to their illness affected them.
- Among regular churchgoers with mental illness, about half (52 percent) say they have stayed at the same church. Fifteen percent changed churches, while 8 percent stopped going to church, and 26 percent said, “Don’t know.”
- Over half, 53 percent, say their church has been supportive. About thirteen percent say their church was not supportive. A third (33 percent) answered, “don’t know” when asked if their church was supportive.
LifeWay Research also asked open-ended questions about how mental illness has affected people’s faith. Those without support from the church said they struggled.
- “My faith has gone to pot and I have so little trust in others,” one respondent told researchers.
- “I have no help from anyone,” said another respondent.
But others found support when they told their church about their mental illness.
- “Several people at my church (including my pastor) have confided that they too suffer from mental illness,” said one respondent.
- “Reminding me that God will get me through and to take my meds,” said another.
Mental illness, like other chronic conditions, can feel overwhelming at times, said Pingleton. Patients can feel as if their diagnosis defines their life. But that’s not how the Bible sees those with mental illness, he said.
He pointed out that many biblical characters suffered from emotional struggles. And some, were they alive today, would likely be diagnosed with mental illness.
“The Bible is filled with people who struggled with suicide, or were majorly depressed or bi-polar,” he said. “David was totally bi-polar. Elijah probably was as well. They are not remembered for those things. They are remembered for their faith.”
LifeWay Research’s study was featured in a two-day radio broadcast from Focus on the Family on September 18 and 19. The study, along with a guide for pastors on how to assist those with mental illness and other downloadable resources, are posted at thrivingpastor.com/mentalhealth.
LifeWay Research also looked at how churches view the use of medication to treat mental illness, about mental and spiritual formation, among other topics. Those findings will be released later this fall.
LifeWay Research conducted 1,000 telephone surveys of Protestant pastors May 7-31, 2014. Responses were weighted to reflect the size and geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
LifeWay Research conducted 355 online surveys July 4-24, 2014 among Protestant adults who suffer from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia. The completed sample includes 200 who have attended worship services at a Christian church once a month or more as an adult.
LifeWay Research conducted 207 online surveys July 4-20, 2014 among Protestant adults who attend religious services at a Christian church on religious holidays or more often and have immediate family members in their household suffering from moderate depression, severe depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia.
Taken from the Pacific Standard which is found HERE.
Christopher Harper-Mercer, the Umpqua Community College gunman, was, by all accounts, a loner. A recluse.
Of course, this is no surprise. From Adam Lanza to Elliot Rodger, practically every mass shooter over the past several years has been described using a special set ofIsolated Gunman Adjectives, all of which revolve around his troubled status as a social outcast. Someone who was unsociable, disturbed.
When news outlets provide this information about mass shooters, does it really help our quest to understand, predict, and ideally prevent these tragedies by identifying risk factors for violence?
Blaming mass violence on mental illness is misleading at best. Mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than they are the perpetrators. Only about four percent of violence can be attributed to those suffering from mental illness. Drug and alcohol abuse is a far greater predictor; people who abuse alcohol or drugs but have no other mental illness diagnoses are almost seven times more likely to be violent. Even if we’re only looking at the “awkward recluse” angle, socially isolated children are also significantly less likely than their more social counterparts to engage in delinquent behavior during middle and high school—mostly because many adolescent crimes are egged on by delinquent friends, or committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol at parties. Loners don’t really have friends. Or go to parties.
Media coverage that mentions “mental illness” can end up reinforcing stigma directed toward the mentally ill, and, in turn, toward those who may be a little socially awkward or reclusive.
At any rate, being socially awkward or reclusive is not actually a risk factor for violence—and neither is mental illness. In fact, sadly, it’s suicide for which mental illness is the strongest risk factor—not homicide. That certainly isn’t the picture we usually get from the news media, which loves to paint a picture of either “mental illness” or the “reclusive outcast” (or a combination of the two) as catch-all bogeymen for mass violence. Unfortunately, those portrayals don’t occur without consequences.
When the media mentions certain groups (or types) of people in the context of trying to find a logical source to blame for mass violence, it has serious consequences for the general public’s perceptions of those groups. Media coverage of Islam after 9/11 dramatically shifted public opinion toward seeing Muslims as “violent,” and the ongoing disproportionate focus on crimes committed by African Americans results in people thinking (even subconsciously) that they’re more “dangerous” than whites. News coverage doesn’t even need to outright link an identity with violence to create negative associations. A 2013 study conducted by Emma McGinty, Daniel Webster, and Colleen Barry found simply mentioning “mental illness” in a newspaper article about a mass shooting immediately made readers significantly more likely to say they would refuse to work closely with or live next door to someone mentally ill, and also made them more likely to say they see all mentally ill people as “dangerous.” This negative generalization occurs even though, of course, “mental illness” is an incredibly broad umbrella, covering everything from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to autism and ADHD—all drastically different diagnoses with different prevalence rates and different symptoms.
Media coverage that mentions “mental illness” (either broadly or focused on more specific diagnoses) can end up reinforcing stigma (a.k.a. the process of de-valuing members of a group because that group seems to deviate from typical social norms) directed toward the mentally ill, and, in turn, toward those who may be a little socially awkward or reclusive.
Stigma matters. People with stigmatized identities have lower levels of self-esteem, higher levels of stress, poorer health, a lower quality-of-life, fewer close relationships, and experience higher rates of discrimination in the workplace. When it comes to mental illness, stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking treatment, can quickly lead to relapse, and can hinder recovery. Experts have even expressed concern that mental health-centered gun control laws might backfire in a very dangerous way because of stigma-related concerns: If potential clients are worried their psychiatrists might turn them in to the government and take away their guns because of something they say, they may be less likely to seek help or disclose important information in therapy. Of course, it doesn’t just end there: Members of stigmatized groups often face ostracism, bullying, and name-calling.
We can’t figure out some magic formula for identifying a Dangerous Shooter, and in the process of trying to do just that, we’re hurting real, innocent people. Apparently, presidential candidate Ben Carson suddenly wants to know why there isn’t a “national push to study [mass shooters],” to figure out what they all have in common with one another. But there have, in fact, been massive studies on those shooters, and the data reveals nothing helpful. As Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, one of the leading experts on the link between violence and mental illness, notes in a 2014 interview with ProPublica, “the risk factors for a mass shooting are shared by a lot of people who aren’t going to do it … if you paint the picture of a young, isolated, delusional young man … that probably describes thousands of other young men.” Most of these massive studies can get slightly more specific; the majority of the research also suggests that mass shooters tend to share issues with substance abuse, easy access to guns, and a history of being victimized or bullied. But these don’t exactly narrow down the suspect list much either—especially in a country where there is roughly one gun for every person, making firearm access exceptionally common.
To be very clear—most stigmatized, bullied, and/or ostracized people do not become mass shooters. But what we can say, for sure, is that there’s nothing about stigmatization that could actually be seen as helpful. As we spend all this time in the wake of mass shootings talking about the Second Amendment, we’d do well to remember that there is also a Fourth—we can’t exactly round up and detain every angry, ostracized young man who knows where to quickly find a gun without probable cause, so pointing fingers at entire swaths of people who we deem “suspicious” is an ultimately futile exercise.
I originally posted this article in 2010 but it is just as relevant today as it was then. Allan
This article is reproduced with permission from Christian Odyssey and their website can be found HERE. The article details the experience of Pastor Mark Mounts as he came to the realization he was suffering from severe depression. If there is anyone reading this who feels like a failure as a Christian due to your personal struggles please realize that is not true. Here is one of scores of examples of Christian “leaders” who suffer just as you do. There is help and hope for you! Allan
It was 11:00 a.m. on a weekday morning and the pastor was having difficulty finding the energy to get out of bed. He wasn’t feeling very “pastoral,” and the guilt was overwhelming. He had phone calls to make, people to visit, sermons to work on, and family obligations were mounting. But all he really wanted to do was get in his car, drive to anywhere but here and forget about everything.
Thirty minutes later he finally mustered the energy to get up and go into the bathroom. On the way, his wife met him. She had a look in her eyes he had never seen before. With a soft voice, but filled with tension, she looked him and said, “For the last few months, you have looked like a walking dead man. I’m worried about you and I don’t know what to do.” That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He knew something was very wrong, and he had to get help.
That was many years ago. The pastor did get help, and today his depression is under control. I know, because I was that pastor.
I’m still a pastor, but now I’m also a professional counselor and therapist, and my years of professional experience have shown me that depression is far from unique among Christians. Many pastors and parishioners feel that no matter how much they get involved and how much time they sacrifice, they just can’t shed the gloominess that seems to follow them everywhere. So they work harder and give more with the hope that this will make the gloom go away. They try Bible study, but they can’t seem to focus. They try prayer, but they don’t know what to say.
Even worse, they don’t feel like being around people anymore, whether at church or at home. They’re not as patient as they used to be. They get frustrated and angry more easily. Little things that never used to bother them now do. And guilt sets in; they get angry at themselves, try to set new schedules and goals to make themselves do what they know they should, only to be disappointed at their seemingly endless lack of “character” to follow through. Their tempers get shorter and shorter, or they escape to the isolation of their beds, not having the energy to even start the day.
This scenario is a textbook case of clinical depression. Oh no — surely not. Christians, of all people, born again with a new life in Christ, shouldn’t get depressed, should they?
Should Christians get depressed?
As a pastor and professional counselor, this is one of the questions I am asked most often. Christians feel guilty about being depressed. They feel they should “know better.” This leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage them to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”
But depression isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s several groundbreaking studies brought significant insight into the biology behind depression. In laymen’s terms, these studies showed that some people’s brains simply do not have the capacity to recover from the biological effects of stress and crisis (Kramer, p. 131). This in turn literally shrinks a part of the brain that controls feelings.
|When you finally see a
counselor, be honest. The more you tell them, the more they can help. Sometimes, when you talk with someone who has an objective perspective, it can make the gloom begin to lift.
The cause of depression is rooted in brain chemistry. The chemicals necessary to maintain this particular area of the brain are not sufficient. As a result, one’s mood is affected, and depression eventually can set in. Genetics has a strong impact on a person’s tendency to become depressed. It isn’t a matter of being Christian or not Christian, converted or not converted or saved or not saved. As Dr. Peter Kramer states in his book, Against Depression, when talking about a study focused on twins:
“Even bleak environments elicit depression only in the vulnerable. That a shared environment rarely shows up in the chain of what causes depression pushes a good deal of what we call environment into the background” (ibid., 135).
We all accept the fact that our bodies wear out and run down and are susceptible to disease. We can even accept the fact that our brains can be ravaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But some Christians will not accept the fact that clinical depression also has specific biological causes. They’d rather categorize depression as a “bad attitude” or “lack of faith.”
What should you do?
If you suffer from depression, there are some things you can do.
First, find a good professional who can help you, someone who is licensed by the state where you live. They will have credentials like LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, or a Psy.D. (Psychological Doctorate). When you contact them, ask if they have a specialty. If they don’t, ask if they will work with someone who is challenged with depression. If they answer yes, ask whether they refer their clients for medication evaluations, or use counseling only. If you happen to have a history of trauma or abuse (many do, so don’t feel alone), make sure you ask whether the therapist is trained in such areas. It’s important for you that they are.
Finding a counselor may feel like an overwhelming task, but it’s extremely important. Admitting that you can’t carry this load on your own is a huge step toward feeling better.
If you want a Christian counselor, you can check websites such as “The American Association of Christian Counselors” AACC). They have a search option that will help you find a counselor in your area. Again, make sure they are state licensed, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You do have the right to find a counselor you’re comfortable with, but realize you will have to eventually make a decision; it may never feel “perfect.”
When you finally see the counselor, be honest. They are there to help, not condemn. The more you tell them, the more they can help. Sometimes, when you talk with someone who has an objective perspective, it can make the gloom begin to lift.
Some come to me and say, “I’ve tried talking with my family, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.” Their attempts at trying to talk with their family, especially a husband or wife, have actually added to their gloominess or depression. This makes them feel even worse. What they don’t realize is that depression affects not just the victim, but also everyone close to them. People who try to help can end up taking the inevitable rejection personally and become upset. It’s not their fault; they simply don’t understand the dynamics of what’s going on. But their reactions can actually make your depression worse. That’s why it’s so important you get a professional, objective perspective.
But what if you see a counselor for several sessions and the cloud doesn’t seem to be lifting?
To medicate or not medicate…
that is the question
When I went through my serious depression, I believed that working harder, praying more, and serving more would make me feel better. But that simply isn’t true. After weeks of therapy, my therapist told me I was a good candidate for anti-depressant medication. At first I felt like a total failure. Me…a Christian pastor…needed…happy pills!
So my therapist wisely explained to me in understandable terms what was going on biologically in my brain, and how the medications would help. It had nothing to do with demons, not being good enough, or not being converted. I was able to understand that I was one of those people who had a vulnerability to depression. In my case, my therapist had realized that anti-depressant medication was not the first resort. But as he began to understand my situation, he realized medication could help.
When I started thinking about it, I realized I had probably been depressed several times in my life; I just didn’t know what it was. But this time was worse than anything I had ever experienced. I couldn’t get out of bed and I had constant shortness of breath. I was yawning and sighing all the time. I felt a tremendous pressure in my chest and experienced chest pains. My eyes felt like they were going to fall out of the back of my head. I didn’t want to be around anybody, and I had developed a temper, especially with my children. It felt like something had wrenched my soul from my body. It was horrible! So, I decided to take the medication, and what a difference it has made.
You have to be aware of something regarding these medications. People are different, and our body chemistries differ greatly. So, be patient! These medications take several weeks to show results, and they may have side effects. Those can eventually go away; they did for me. But if they don’t, there are other medications you can try. The key is to find one that works for you and realize it may not be the first one you try; so hang in there!
Antidepressant medications are not happy pills. They certainly were not for me. But they did lift the cloud so I could begin to talk about how I was thinking and feeling. Before taking the medication, talking about my thoughts or feelings would only add to my depression. The medications changed that. I still had to talk, and I stayed in counseling for more than a year. I learned that I had been taught some pretty unhealthy ways to think about people and situations. But, thanks to a great counselor, a loving and supportive family, anti-depressant medication, and most importantly, a loving and forgiving God, the cloud finally lifted.
What about personal spirituality?
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and antidepressant medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them.
If you are depressed, there is help for you. It is okay to admit it, and it is okay to get help. Life will still have its ups and downs, but there are options for you if the “downs” last for a long, long time.
If those around us are telling us that something is wrong with us and they don’t know what to do for us, we need to listen with a humble heart.
Mark Mounts has a Masters in Professional Counseling from Liberty University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Houston area. Mark did his pre-graduate internship at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and focused in the area of Early Childhood Intervention. Mark now has a part-time counseling practice at the Houston Center for Christian Counseling where he counsels children, teens, families, and individual adults. He is also a full-time pastor for Community Christian Fellowship (a congregation of Grace Communion International). Mark has been married to his wife Debra for 25 years and they have two teenagers, ages 14 and 15.
• Peter D. Kramer, Against Depression. London: Viking Penguin, 2005.
• Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, 2005.