“I am a Christian with mental illness. Let us not dismiss or trivialize mental illness as a desease [sic]. It has been shown that it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, that is fact. That would be a mistake indeed, and an injustice to those who fight it every day. It is not a lack of character, or a lack of faith for a Christian. None can truly understand the devastation of mental illness unless you have it. My faith has kept me alive, and I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for being with me and getting me the help I need through the years. I praise his name…”
Let me begin by saying I appreciate this brother or sister in Christ taking the time to write, and I hate to hear about the difficulties he or she has had to endure. I have been in ministry for the past thirty-two years, most of it as a pastor, and I have worked with countless people dealing with problems, many of them quite serious, during that time. My heart goes out to this individual and I have prayed and given much thought to how I should respond. I have no wish at all to be hurtful to the person; we are both members of the body of Christ. At the same time, I appreciate the opportunity to address the issue this individual has raised.
First, it is not my intention in any way whatever to dismiss or trivialize the problems this person must deal with on a daily basis, and I salute this person for his or her courage and wisdom in continuing to look to the Lord Jesus. While I may disagree with some of the statements that have been made, I don’t for a second question his or her integrity or sincerity. I do, however, believe it is necessary to address a common misperception cited in this individual’s comment--not only for his or her sake, but for anyone else who has read the series.
The writer states: “It has been shown that [mental illness] is a chemical imbalance in the brain, that is fact.” Actually, it has not been shown that such is the case. The term “chemical imbalance” is one that has been largely abandoned by a growing majority of professionals in recent years. The following excerpts from Shrink Wrap: Three Psychiatrists Explain Their Work (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) will help to explain why that has occurred:
“Chemical imbalance is a term with imprecise meaning… Saying that a psychiatric disorder is caused by a chemical
imbalance, although an imperfect explanation, sometimes makes psychiatric disorders more palatable to patients and less stigmatizing… But there is no psychiatric disorder for which we know for certain which chemicals are ‘imbalanced’, if any [emphasis mine]…
We know that the medications used to treat mental illnesses alter the level of certain neurotransmitters. The antidepressant Prozac increases levels of serotonin in the brain. We don’t know for sure that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin…We presume there is a ‘chemical imbalance’, but it remains uncertain what that imbalance actually is.”
Allow me to translate. "We don't really have any idea what causes depression. It could be low levels of serotonin, but that is just a guess." (Some people who suffer from depression have low levels of serotonin, while others have much higher levels. Conversely, many people who don't suffer from depression have low levels of serotonin. Serotonin levels could be a factor, but at this point no one knows for certain. Notice the use of words such as “presume” and “uncertain” by the authors. Such words must be used because the idea of chemical imbalance is both theoretical and unsubstantiated. - JS)
Dr. Eric R. Kandel, M.D., the Nobel Prize winning physician and researcher who is a professor in the school of psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, has acknowledged that science simply hasn’t yet been able to discover the “biological underpinnings” of major mental disorders. "The real tragedy", he states, "is that medical research in nearly every other area of the body has moved forward significantly with the exception of the brain."
Having arrived at this point, I can see that further discussion is necessary, particularly regarding the connection between brain and mind--because they are not the same thing. If you accept what the Bible has to say about it, you will find this to be a profitable discussion. I will begin to address the issue in the next post. JS