Part IV: Is There Any Such Thing As “Mental Illness”?

by | May 18, 2015 | General Health, Healthcare, Reflection

I have asserted that there is no such thing.

Because there is no such “thing” as a “mind.” Rather, the “mind” is a process derived from the union of two components, one physical, the other spiritual.

The mind is a two-way street. It’s a totally unique characteristic of us humans. Because the physical can affect the spiritual, and vice versa. It’s a “chicken and the egg” question. If a person is depressed, he or she will have neurotransmitters (or lack thereof) characteristic of depression. If a person has a biologically inherited neurotransmitter predisposition, he or she will have a tendency toward anxiety or depression (or bipolar disease, ADHD, etc.).

Therefore, if one “chooses” to dwell on depressed or depressing thoughts, the chemistry of the brain will reflect this. This is a great mystery of human nature. Which comes first, the chemistry (the physical) or the thought/emotion/willful choice (spiritual)?

The answer is, well, both.

The physical affects the expression of the soul (the mind). The physical body is the vehicle through which the spiritual manifests itself. And, unique to us humans, is the ability to change the chemistry of our brains by choosing  to think properly. Some call this “the power of positive thinking.”

The Bible refers to the human body as a “temple” (actually a “tabernacle” or temporary “tent”) in which the spirit dwells. Now, some disorders of cognitive and emotional function, (which are included in the term: “mental illness”) are clearly biological problems in the construction of the “temple”. Among these disorders, are bi-polar illness, schizophrenia, and developmental/cognitive deficits associated with genetic defects such as Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21).

No amount of psychotherapy or counseling will transform the IQ of a Down’s Syndrome person from 70 to 120. It’s a physical, not a “mental” problem. Ever heard of the term: “mad as a hatter”? Here’s a historical tidbit: Hatmakers in Old London, those who made hats from felt, were exposed to mercury vapors in the process. Over time they suffered from mercury toxicity and became, well, “Mad Hatters” (see also Alice in Wonderland} A person who is “mad as a hatter”  from toxic thyroid hormone levels doesn’t need counseling. They need to get the thyroid back to normal.

But consider this: A person comes into my office and expresses symptoms clearly diagnostic of “clinical depression”. It’s also clear in the interview that this patient has many issues of unresolved pain, grief, anger. These thought patterns are ingrained in their consciousness and they have worn physical “ruts” in the biochemical “roads” of their brains.

Now, I can treat this patient with an anti-depressant plus an anti-anxiety drug to treat the chemistry of his or her brain. This person will likely feel and function better. But if they don’t start to learn new patterns of thinking (that would be a spiritual process), and continue to dwell on old hurts, losses, suffering, fears, the anxiety and depression will persist, or return. No amount of medication will cure a person who willfully refuses to seek change.

I describe anti-depressants to my patients thus: “What I’m giving you is a biochemical ‘splint’ for your brain chemistry. It will hold things in place until they heal in the same way a splint holds a broken bone steady in order for it to knit together normally. But if you continue to play rugby on that broken bone in that splint, you will need a cast. Continue the harmful activity and you will need an open surgical procedure like a pin or a plate. Continue rugby and you will be beyond repair and need amputation.”

You can treat “mental illness”. But it’s important to dissect out its components. I refer you to my poetic blog of a few weeks ago. We must make conscious choices about what we remember and how we remember them.

For example, most basic Psychology 101 courses teach the concept that “depression” is “anger turned inward”. The most successful modern psychotherapeutic techniques for treating such  things as PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) focus on recalling past trauma over and over and “reprocessing” how one responds to the memory, physically and mentally. This is a conscious and very spiritual thing that will, over time, make changes in the chemistry of the brain.

As I have said to hundreds if not thousands of patients over the last thirty years… “There’s no such thing as ‘forgive and forget’…rather, we must ‘remember and yet forgive’.”

That’s treating the Spirit.