I was surfing through my Facebook pages the other night and I ran across this article in the Huff Post web page. The title asks, “What if people treated physical illness like Mental illness?” The point of the post is to try to get people to treat mental illness like physical illness. I thought I would take a stab at why I don’t treat mental illness like I treat physical illness. I think I can do it by using the article and the slide presentation attached to the article.
The major assertion is that mental illness, “just like having the flu, or food poisoning, or cancer isn’t in their control.” But is the flu, food poisoning, or cancer just like mental illness? I don’t think so. No one talks about mental illness the same way people talk about these physical illnesses. Not even the article. Here’s what I mean.
One web sites tells us that this is how you catch the flu:
If you want to be one of the 20 percent of Americans who catch the flu this season, shake hands with a lot of sick people.
Sickly folk are contagious for a long time. An adult can spread the virus one day before and three to seven days after symptoms show. Kids are contagious for even longer periods of time. Although you can steer clear of those that sniffle, some infected individuals show no symptoms and can still spread the virus to others.
Most commonly, the virus travels through the air in liquid droplets from coughs and sneezes . Viruses prefer the wintry conditions of cold air with low humidity. In humid air, the droplets grow heavy with water and fall to the ground—or to other surfaces.
And FLU.Gov says this about the difference between the common cold and the flu:
The flu and the common cold have similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Your health care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine whether or not you have the flu.
On the other hand, here is one thing the article’s slide show said about the cause of depression:
Smoking has long been linked with depression, though it’s a chicken-or-egg scenario: People who are depression-prone may be more likely to take up the habit.
However, nicotine is known to affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain, resulting in higher levels of dopamine and serotonin (which is also the mechanism of action for antidepressant drugs).
This may explain the addictive nature of the drug, and the mood swings that come with withdrawal, as well as why depression is associated with smoking cessation. Avoiding cigarettes — and staying smoke free — could help balance your brain chemicals.
Take a careful look at the differences between these two ways of looking at illness. The first quote talks about the flu as an organism that is passed along from person to person in various ways. It uses words like can and might, but it is giving various ways the flu is passed, not saying that there is no real connection or that there is insecurity about how the flu is transmitted. The second says, “Your health care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine whether or not you have the flu.” Doctors can and do administer objective tests that will clearly reveal to you whether or not you have the flu. With regard to the causes of how a person contracts the flu and how we know whether we have it or not the science is hard on the subject.
On the other hand, the paragraphs discussing depression are full of words like: linked, might, may, and could. “Smoking has been liked with depression,” but it might be that depression causes smoking. These words are used because the author and the industry are unsure about whether smoking actually causes depression. In fact, there is not real or solid connection at all. Other than self-reported incidents from people who both smoke and who are depressed.
Notice something else about these paragraphs: “…nicotine is known to affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain.” Really? What test did they use to determine that? “…resulting in higher levels of dopamine and serotonin.” Again, really? Which test did they use for that? The truth is that there are no tests for chemical levels in the brain until the person is dead. And then we’re back to the chicken and the egg problem, which came first? Which caused which?
In my view, this kind of inaccuracy and actual misrepresentation (I don’t want to call it a lie, but I’m not sure why) leads me to take everything they say about mental illness with a grain of incredulity.
Still, to answer the question about thinking about mental illness the same way we do physical illness, I’ve got to say that, at least with regard to the flu, I think about them differently because the industry thinks about them differently. The cause of flu is a settled issue and it can be tested for. The presence of depression is a subjective observation, and its cause at least with regard to smoking, is at best a guess.
The Mayo Clinic says this about food poisoning: “Food poisoning, also called food borne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.” How do I know if I have food poisoning? Check the food I ate. Simple, objective, no ifs, or buts. The Mayo Clinic doesn’t use words like might, may, could, or possibly.
Here’s what the web site said about depression:
Spending too much time in chat rooms and on social-networking sites? A number of studies now suggest that this can be associated with depression, particularly in teens and preteens.
Internet addicts may struggle with real-life human interaction and a lack of companionship, and they may have an unrealistic view of the world. Some experts even call it “Facebook depression.”
In a 2010 study, researchers found that about 1.2 percent of people ages 16 to 51 spent an inordinate amount of time online, and that they had a higher rate of moderate to severe depression.
However, the researchers noted that it is not clear if Internet overuse leads to depression or if depressed people are more likely to use the Internet.
Notice, again how solid the evidence is. “Spending too much time…” what constitutes too much time? “Studies now suggest…” is suggest the same as has shown? “…this can be associated with depression…” Can be? How definitive is that? “Internet addicts…” What is an addict? Can you be addicted to the internet? What study proved that? “…internet addicts may struggle…” May struggle? May not struggle. Is the lack of “real-life human interaction and lack of companionship” the cause of depression or is depression the cause of a lack of interaction? And, if the fact that the addict isn’t spending time with folks is causing depression, wouldn’t getting out of the house and meeting people a better solution to depression than medication?
The American Cancer Society lists specific objective tests to determine whether one has cancer or not here. To be sure, there are symptoms that a person might exhibit that would suggest that they should visit a doctor, but when the patient visits the doctor, they receive a battery of tests that determine that cancer actually exists.
Again, from the web site discussing mental illness:
Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and vegetable oils, may be associated with a greater risk of depression.
A 2004 Finnish study found an association between eating less fish and depression in women, but not in men.
These fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link. Fish oil supplements may work too; at least one study found they helped depression in people with bipolar disorder.
I was pretty excited when I noticed, before reading the actual text, that it appeared that we were going to be talking about actual chemicals that can be measured. But alas. “…may be associated….” May not be. Again, we see that “fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link.” Again, we can’t actually measure serotonin in the brain and it may explain the link that might not be there at all.
The point of the article is that the author wonders why people don’t regard mental illness in the same way we regard physical illnesses like flu, food poisoning, and cancer. I’ll tell you why I don’t. First, we can prove that the physical illnesses actually exist. When talking about physical illness the conversation sounds like this, “the flu is a bug you have.” When talking about mental illness the talk sounds like this, “we don’t exactly it know what it is, but you definitely have it.”
Second, you can definitively show why a person has two of these illnesses. For example, “you have food poisoning because you ate rotten food.” In the case of depression, “the day got shorter and your friend died, and you didn’t eat enough fish all may have contributed to what might be depression—if it puts you out of commission for long enough in the right way.” But it could just as easily be that “the sun is in the third heaven and Venus is in the seventh house and you didn’t stand on your left leg and jump enough this past month.”
Third, these illnesses actually have definitions rather than simple descriptions. “Cancer is X.” Not, depression is a collection of symptoms that may or may not actually be causal.
Fourth, when a person gets over these illnesses, or is healed from these illnesses, there is a direct link between what was prescribed for them and their recovery. In the case of mental illness patients may not ever fully recover. There is no, “take this medication for that bug.” There is no science behind the medication and often, if not usually, the medication is actually for resultant irritation of the “illness,” not the actual illness. This is because there is no actual illness caused the symptoms. There is only a state (which we give a name and call an illness) caused by the results of the symptoms.
Here is a list of the “12 Surprising Causes of Depression” depicted on the article, and my take on how better to understand these events:
- Shorter Days May Cause Depression: The text says that 5% of Americans suffer the blues when the winter causes the days to become shorter. It goes on to say that in less than 1% of these people this is a form of depression. Of course, as in the examples I gave above, the selection is full of words like might, could, can, There is no proof that the shorter days is causing the depression. And, who’s to say that being blue, even to the point where you can’t get out of bed, is depression and not a state of mind brought on by something related to shorter days. For example, I play a lot of golf in the summer. Here in Idaho, it doesn’t get dark until almost 10:00. This means that I can go out after supper and play 18 holes every day. When the days get shorter, I can’t play and I go through a sort of withdrawal from not being able to do what I’ve grown accustomed to doing. If I were a selfish man and wanted what I want, I could stress over the loss of sunlight and my body might react to not having my way. I could get closed in on myself and this might be labeled as depression. But what is happening isn’t cause by the loss of sunlight, it is caused by the loss of golf. And more importantly it isn’t the loss of golf as much as it is the loss of getting what I want. The Bible calls this sin.
- Smoking: I don’t really need to say much about this one. It is mentioned above and clearly there is no proof whatsoever that smoking, nicotine, or serotonin is related to depression. I think smoking is dumb, even sinful when it becomes a person’s lord, but if smoking is related to depression it is for a lot of other reasons.
- Thyroid Disease: This one is a legitimate cause of depression. It is important to point out however, that depression is a symptom of thyroid disease. This is not at all what the article is directing us to believe and it makes a huge difference. The reason it is important to make this distinction is because when a person is treated for the thyroid disease, the symptoms related to the disease go away on their own as the thyroid returns to normal functioning. If a person were depressed because of thyroid disease, they would undoubtedly be misdiagnosed if they went to a psychologist or psychiatrist for treatment for depression.
- Poor Sleep Habits: Again, this section is full of ifs, mights, cans, and maybes. But this one actually makes sense. It makes sense that not getting enough sleep would cause all sorts of adverse reactions in the body. The treatment, however, should relate to the lack of sleep, not the result of the lack of sleep.
- Facebook Overload: this one relates to the internet addict. And again, while I’ve talked about this one above, why treat the symptom instead of the cause of the symptom? Get your depressed kid off the computer. Teach him about God and about serving and loving others. Get him outside himself and help him to become someone who brings glory to God. If his mood or state is caused by spending too much time on the computer, get him off the and don’t call him depressed or diseased.
- End Of A TV Show Or Movie: first of all this is grief, not depression. Second, to think that people can get so tied up in something that is not real, that they actually let the grief and sadness of its passing effect their lives to the point where they can’t function, is actually kind of scary. If this happens, turn the damned TV off and do something helpful. Get out of your house and give to someone else. If you’re going to grieve, grieve for the death of someone you’ve actually poured your life into. Go visit an orphanage, or an old folk’s home. Get involved at your local hospital and play with newborns, or kids with cancer. Worship God—get a life.
- Where You Live: this one is similar to the shorter day one. People are simply not happy with where God has them living. Here’s a better solution than calling your sin a mental illness: Praise God. Stop trying to be God. If you don’t want to live in a city, move. The problem with this one is that when you get to the country, you’ll not like it there either. This is because the problem is not where you live, it’s who lives there. You live there and you aren’t going to be happy no matter what happens in your life. Repent! Rejoice in Jesus. Be thankful for all things. Grab hold of where you live and pour your life into that place and stop complaining about what you don’t have.
- Too Many Choices: I agree that sometimes having too many choices can be a bit overwhelming. It has that effect on me from time to time. But what can be done other than to roll up into a self-absorbed ball? Well, you can take a step back and think about things differently. Who says you need to consider all the options before you make a choice? Who says you need to be an expert in all the options before you make a choice? What would happen if you just bought the first widget that you came across and then lived with it until it broke or you found a better one without all the pressure that too many options brings? Depression is not caused by to many choices, but by the way you think about all the choices. Run to God. Let him give you peace. You don’t have to let the choices rule your life. In fact, to do so, is to sin. So, stop sinning. Take a step back, calm down, go slow. The world will still be spinning tomorrow. God will still be in charge and Jesus will still be Lord.
- Lack Of Fish In The Diet: I’ve already mentioned this one, but let me say this: I hear that Japanese folk eat a lot of fish. Does this mean that the Japanese people are less depressed than people who live in places where fish are not eaten much at all? I’ve not heard this. And the article didn’t mention it. Again, not eating fish is a lot like many of the other “food” issues. It reminds me of those who say we should be very careful on Fridays when the date is the 13th. It is anecdotal at best, and probably dangerous because things happen when people believe them. Again, I say trust God. Eat fish, don’t eat fish. Rejoice in what you put your hand to, and put your hand to things that glorify God.
- Poor Sibling Relationships: Well, duh. I don’t get along with my brother and so I’m depressed. The Bible says to love your brother. It says to forgive your brother. It says to repent of your bitterness and lay it aside. Depression is a symptom of sin. Stop the sin—stop the depression. Imagine that!
- Birth Control Pills: Again, depression is a symptom, not a cause. Stop taking birth control pills, don’t visit a psychologist. It is interesting that the article makes it sound like the depression and the pills are not related. You take pills, you are depressed. Its like people who hit themselves in the head with a stick and can’t understand why they have a headache. It’s as if the two are unrelated. I need a drug for my headache—it really hurts.
- Medications: depression is a side effect of many medications. So, let’s add medications to the medications, then when other nasty side effects come because of the combinations of meds, we’ll take some more medications. I know people who are taking 11 or 12 different medications. One or two of them are meant to work on the original diagnosis. The rest are for the side effects of those and the side effects of the side effects. There’s got to be a better way.
Again, I don’t think about mental illness the same way I think about physical illness because the industry and common sense don’t think about them the same way. Mental illness is not the result of hard science. To try to think of them the same way is harmful because doing so blinds people to the real problems in their lives. When a mood or state of mind is called an illness, which we attribute to some foreign or malignant entity that has invaded our body (like we do the flu, food poisoning, or cancer), when the mood is actually caused by sin, people are encouraged to remain in their sin. They are never cleansed, forgiven, and made whole. They remain in bondage to their sin and results of their sin. They spend the rest of their lives taking medications for an illusory illness, and think the resulting numb feeling is the new normal. It’s a horrible idolatrous evil.