Some people, if you say that you are suffering from a mental illness, will tell you not to take medication. Some say that the drugs will make you worse, that you will be addicted, that you should be able to “man up” and deal with whatever you are experiencing. Some Christians who believe this will tell you that it is a sign of your lack of faith in God that you insist on taking this medication. This seems to be more commonly directed to people suffering from bipolar, depression, anxiety etc rather than schizophrenia – where the more common reaction seems to be “take the pills immediately otherwise I think you’ll kill me.”
I find this a very damaging viewpoint to take. I take a variety of medications, some for my bipolar disorder, and some for other complaints. I tend to go with what my doctor tells me, and take whatever she advises unless the side-effects are really severe. I am not a whole-hearted fan of medication – I wish that I did not have to take any, and the side-effects of some of them can be most unpleasant. I also realise that the big pharmaceutical companies are not saints, and there have been drugs promoted as cures which did nothing of the sort. (In that vein, I am planning to read Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Pharma”, which I am sure will be as excellent as his last book.)
There are significant down-sides to medication, particularly psychiatric medication. I for example am tired nearly all of the time and have occasional dizziness and hand tremors. I am suspicious that it may be causing cognitive differences in me, although I have been on medication for 10 years now and find it hard to remember life drug-free. At times I have raged about taking it, particularly when either in a dark depression where it doesn’t seem to be working or when well and I don’t seem to need it. I continue to take the drugs, however, because I fear the consequences if I do not. I do remember when I was unmedicated and ill, and how awful that was, and how awful the consequences could have been if I had not started taking the drugs. I continue to take them too, because I have a responsibility to my own health, to try to maintain a level of mental health and, ultimately, because I trust the doctors who treat me and I do not believe they would give me something I did not need. In fact I am working with my psychiatrist to reduce the dose of my medication and have been doing so for about a year now.
My issue is with Christians who suggest that God does not want us to take medication. It is quite a common attitude, and they generally apply it to those who are experiencing mental illness. It is rare for people to say to an insulin-dependent diabetic that they should stop their medication, that they need to trust in God and not man-made pills. It is rare, because they understand that a diabetic’s medication keeps them alive, because they understand physical illness in a way that they don’t understand mental illness.
Should we throw away our pills, and trust in God? It reminds me of that old story, where a man is drowning in the sea. He calls on God to help him. A boat comes, and he waves it away, saying he is waiting for God to save him. Another boat comes, same response. Then a helicopter hovers overhead, but still the man says he is waiting for God to save him. He drowns, and asks God why did he let him die? God says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!” What I’m trying to say is that we can trust God and medical science. God is the one who created everything on this earth, including the chemical compounds used to make our medicines. He created the men and women who discovered that those compounds could help treat illnesses. There are many scientists and doctors who have faith, and all good things come from God, including medication. We even see some medications in the Bible. We know that olive oil was used to treat wounds, in Isaiah 1:6; Psalm 55:21 and in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 we see him pouring oil and wine into the wounds of an injured man to treat him. The famous balm of Gilead was a soothing medicine and mentioned in Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11; 51:8 and 2 Chronicles 28:15.
An illness of the mind is not a different illness to one of the body. Any part of us can get sick, whether it be a hand, an eye or the brain. And when something gets out of kilter, we can and do treat it. If we are going to say that the mentally ill should throw away our medicines, then we must be consistent and say that so should cancer patients, diabetics and anyone nursing a broken ankle. After all, it is wrong to not rely on God, right?
I tend to find that those who will say we are wrong to treat our illnesses through pharmacological means have very little wrong with them, and certainly nothing mental. In this day and age I should not feel I have to write a post explaining that mental illnesses are real, and need real treatment. Yes, I believe God can and does heal – but I also believe that that healing may well come through the use of the drugs he has given us. There are problems with medication, and we may even be over-medicated, we also know that talking therapies may be more effective and yet are less accessible. These are real concerns – but to deny that we should use medication at all, is wrong, I believe. Medication can be the difference between life and death for a mentally ill person – and I believe we have a responsibility to our fellow man and woman to not deny treatment for what are very painful and life-altering diseases.
Trust God – and take your medication.
- God, Sin, and Mental Illness (mygodprovides.wordpress.com)
- More Evidence Linking Creativity, Mental Illness (nlm.nih.gov)
- Creativity Linked To Mental Illness In New Large Scale Study (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Can Creativity Foreshadow Mental Illness? (medicaldaily.com)
- Study: Writers Are Twice as Likely to Commit Suicide (theatlantic.com)