Psychiatry–A Western Sacred Cow

I’ve been ruminating on a post about psychiatry for a long time, and I still don’t know how to tackle it.

The brain.

The mind.

It’s hard enough to fathom that our brains are able to think about themselves… but when you understand that sometimes those same brains malfunction, and you want to sort out the difference between good, “normal” brains and bad, “broken” ones, it’s even more complicated…

How do we know when our brains aren’t working?  How will we know if/when they’re fixed?  Where do we even begin to define “normal” in the first place?

Countless books have been written on brain-science, and I’ve read a fair number of them.  I could talk for hours about Mind Theories and Psychology–yet I still struggle to share anything specific…

Why?

…because I’ve noticed mental illness is a major area in which my fellow Americans are NOT open for discussion.  

The large majority of people expect a very specific script of things said about brain disorders.  And if you say anything else, you will be considered “ignorant” or even guilty of “causing harm” to those suffering.

Here are a few things you’re allowed to say, without getting into trouble:

-Mental illness is a disease, just like cancer.

-It’s not a choice, not a sign of weakness, and we cannot blame the mental illness on the individual.

-If you are experiencing depression, you should seek professional help.

There may be one or two other “safe” points, but those are the biggies.

Unfortunately, I’d like to move beyond these statements, to the deeper truths, and I don’t feel at liberty to do so.

I’m not saying I disagree with the cliche bullets, exactly.  I just think brain function (and the treatment we use to correct it) is more complicated than that.  Unlike tumors, which we can see on a scan, or a fractured bone, which shows up on X-rays, it’s not easy to describe mental disorders.

In fact, if we’re being honest, even the most up-to-date expert knows very little about the human mind.

—–

For several years, I’ve been researching theories on The Brain–and thinking about its relationship with spiritual things, all the while knowing I could easily get myself diagnosed with depression (or even bi-polar disorder), if I trusted psychiatry as much as the average person…

My grandfather, by the way, has been a Manic Depressive since Bipolar Disorder was called “Manic Depression” in the early-80’s.

And I finally accepted a prescription for Zoloft after my son was born, when my Postpartum Depression/Anxiety spiraled to the point of Googling “Do suicide victims go to Heaven?”  I was getting less than 2 hours of sleep each night for weeks, unable to rest between senseless panic attacks and mind-whirling question about how and why a Christian girl could still experience such fear/hopelessness.

All of these things lead me to read and listen and study and journal, in an attempt to better understand my mind and soul. But I haven’t been able to hit “post” on any of my ramblings…

Until now…

…when suddenly mental illness is thrust into the spotlight again, and everybody discusses depression and suicide in the light of what happened this week.

Suddenly, I know what I need to say about psychiatry in our culture (and the reason I haven’t said more already)… The death of Robin Williams has proven there are several things you CAN’T say about mental illness:

-You can’t say mental illness is both physical and spiritual.  Never mind that all of life is both physical and spiritual.  Humans ARE spirits, temporarily housed in flesh to go through the Time Phase of existence. The majority of “reality” happens in the metaphysical world, beyond our eyes/ears/hands.

But you are not allowed to acknowledge the spiritual connection, in front of somebody struggling with depression.  They may think you’re calling them sinful and feel more guilty. Just stick to the script and leave spirituality alone.

-You can’t say that mentally-ill folks still have choices.   This goes for both “religious” and “non-religious” people.  Apparently, (as Christians) we don’t realize that saying people have no choice means God is making them be crazy…and kill a bunch of people in a school….and/or take their own life.

We believe in free-will except when it comes to depression and suicide. If you suggest that somebody with depression still has the responsibility to choose for himself/herself, you will be lambasted by the public.  (That’s why Matt Walsh is taking heat right now.)

You can’t say suicide is a selfish choice.   In fact, repeat after me: suicide is not a selfish choice.  …even though yes it IS a selfish choice.  It’s the ultimate self-saving decision.   You’re NOT thinking about the family you leave behind. You’re NOT giving the Holy Spirit a voice.

Believing in the “selfishness” of suicide majorly impacted my decision to stay on earth and keep fighting. But we’re told you can’t say “That’s selfish,” unless you want to make the depressed person feel worse.  

Of course, most depressed people will tell you they can’t feel worse than they already do, but don’t think about it too much.

You’re not a professional. Just stick to the script.

—–

Thus, I’ve kept quiet about the many, many things I’ve been processing the last few years, because I don’t want to deal with the culture that attaches so many “rules” to the topic. If I question the wrongs things, it will be assumed automatically that my battle with depression isn’t as severe as Robin Williams’ battle was.

I’ll be told I just don’t understand.

There are hundreds of things I’ve learned about myself and about God, as I’ve fought.  But I’ll keep ruminating for now.  I find the treatment of Matt Walsh (and others who ask honest, philosophical questions) to be appalling and hypocritical.   But I’ll keep searching for the best way to explain my observations…

It’s important to tread carefully around the witch-doctors and the giant, jeweled cow.

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6 thoughts on “Psychiatry–A Western Sacred Cow

  1. danielharris23122257

    Thank you for this article. I’d also come across MW’s blog and was equally outraged and was just about to begin a search for a rebuttal like yours.

    Clearly, MW is not afraid to spout his opinions for all to see – regardless the depth of his knowledge in that subject.

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  2. bethagrace

    1. The mental illness conversation frustrates me because so much is blamed on it. Someone went and killed a bunch of people? They were crazy. Someone kills himself? He was mentally ill.

    But what if Robin Williams wasn’t ill? What if he felt the emptiness we all have without God in our lives? King Solomon had wealth beyond compare, but he still said that, if this earth is all our lives amount to, all is vanity. Really, that’s a pretty sane assessment. I don’t know Robin’s reasons. None of us can. But why do we assume there was something wrong with his brain just because he didn’t want to charge on with the rest of us. Maybe he was more right than a lot of people realize.

    2. I honestly think the “selfish” argument is one of the most powerful. When I was in high school, I hit a point of very much wanting to die. I remember driving on the highway for the first time and thinking about how if I just turned the wheel, it could all be over in the moment.

    But here’s the thing: There were too many cars on the road. Other people would get hurt.

    When I thought about it in my room, I questioned the sin aspect, like you… but I also thought about my family and how heartbroken they would be. I thought of how they would spend the rest of their lives questioning everything.

    Releasing myself from misery wasn’t worth cursing the people I loved most. Instead, I just started praying (almost) every night that God would kill me in my sleep or some accident–still tragic, but not at the same level. Instead of giving me my wish, God used those prayers to draw me closer to Him and, over time, heal me.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I totally agree about sin and hopelessness…and the fact that suicide would be the only LOGICAL solution, if we’re nothing but evolutionary mistakes.

      But, seriously, most people would rip us to shreds over that perspective…

      Your story is very similar to mine. The worst Hell imaginable–the complete and literal belief that I’d NEVER be happy again–ended up leading to a more satisfying faith and bigger joy than I ever could have experienced before the pain…

      Unfortunately, just the fact you resisted the urge to crash, will cause people to dismiss your story. They will assume you didn’t have “real” depression in the first place, or at least you had an easier case than those who actually DO kill themselves… We’re never permitted to share the Truth.

      All around us, people will continue in darkness, believing they “have no choice,” all because well-meaning people say completely un-Truthful things like, “It’s not selfish.” and “Now Williams is free!”

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      1. bethagrace

        It is true that being alive and well–without professional counseling or at least an actual suicide attempt–would delegitimize my story in a lot of people’s eyes. Even as I wrote out my response, I thought about how much detail I needed to give to prove that it wasn’t just high school drama or something silly.

        Our freshman year of college, we were given a book about grieving, and the author, who lost his wife and several kids in a car accident, talked about how we should compare grief. People always told him how tragic his grief was, but he said his grief was no more legitimate than the grief of someone with a less flashy story.

        I think that’s true for depression, too. It isn’t always caused by something huge, and we don’t all react in the same way (which makes sense, since we all have different personalities). Instead of using those things to grade the depression, we should use them to learn from one another.

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  3. Pingback: Can Mental Illness Be Cured? | Cultures at War

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