One of the greatest frustrations for people with mental illness, and for those who care for them, is the lack of a medical test to confirm that they are sick. You have a broken arm? You get an X-ray. Kidney stones? You get an IVP. Diabetes? You take a blood test. But with depression, schizophrenia, etc., there’s nothing. Nothing!
All the sufferer can do is describe symptoms and hope that the doctor or psychiatrist can pull it all together and make it fit under one or other category and prescribe suitable treatment. The sufferer can’t go home with an ultrasound, an X-ray, or a lab result and say, “See, here it is.” There’s nothing to see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.
Therefore it’s all imaginary, isn’t it.
Sometimes the sufferer feels that. For sure, many around them think that. And way too many Christians default to that. It’s like the ignorance and skepticism surrounding epilepsy only a few generations ago.
“You’re just imagining it”
I’ve heard it so many times, “Until there’s a test, we can’t assume it exists.” “If they can produce a test, we’ll call it an illness.” Few people will come right out and say, “You’re just imagining it.” But it’s often implied and sufferers often sense it, only adding to their pain. As Charles Spurgeon said:
It is all very well for those who are in robust health and full of spirits to blame those whose lives are sicklied or covered with the pale cast of melancholy, but the [malady] is as real as a gaping wound, and all the more hard to bear because it lies so much in the region of the soul that to the inexperienced it appears to be a mere matter of fancy and diseased imagination. Reader, never ridicule the nervous and hypochondrichal, their pain is real; though much of the [malady] lies in the imagination it is not imaginary
I’m sure Spurgeon wished there was a test, something to silence the skeptical whispers and doubting expressions.
Thankfully, for present sufferers, the day has arrived. There is a test. Proof of mental illness exists. Yes, real physical proof. Watch the video at the end of this post for more details, as well as some other incredible examples of what God has enabled scientists and doctors to do for those who suffer with other neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and dystonia. In the meantime, have a look at this screenshot.
The red area cg25 is the sadness center of the brain and it’s red hot. The “cold” or “underactive” blue areas are concerned with drive, motivation, decision making, etc.
The skeptics, of course, will not give up easily. It’s not easy to to climb down from the “moral” or “biblical” high ground. Reputations are at stake. Perhaps even whole ministries are at stake. They’ll say, “Oh, it’s just Big Pharma’s latest evil con.” Or, “OK, it looks like there may be physical evidence of brain abnormality, but it was the person’s sin that caused it.”
Let’s just take that last objection for a moment. And let’s just assume that, at least in some cases, it was a person’s personal decisions, their sinful choices, that resulted in them being schizophrenic or depressed. Perhaps they experimented with certain drugs in their late teens and, like so many in their mid-twenties, they are now hearing voices and experiencing psychotic episodes. Or perhaps they had a bad experience, a sad loss in their lives, but instead of turning to God and His means of grace, they stopped reading their Bible, stopped praying, and stopped going to church, and now – no surprise – they are seriously depressed. They are now suffering the mental, emotional, and even physical consequences of their sinful choices. The PET scan will show up physical abnormalities, but it was their sin that caused it.
Alcoholics and workaholics
Well, what do we do with alcoholics who have diseased livers, or workaholics with diseased hearts, or with speedaholics who’ve totalled themselves and their car yet again. We treat both the physical and spiritual aspects of their disease or injury, don’t we. With sympathy and compassion. Why should sin-caused mental illness be any different?
But just as people can get liver disease who never touched a drop of whisky, and just as people can get heart disease who never worked an hour past 9-5, and just as the safest drivers end up paralyzed in car wrecks, so people can get brain abnormalities and resulting mental illness through no fault of their own. Why then do we treat them so differently, so suspiciously, so judgmentally?
Sure, the PET scans at the moment are prohibitively expensive for most, and many medical treatments for mental illness are still at early and primitive stages of development. However, such tests will accelerate the improvement of medications.
And if even such tests would generate a more sympathetic and holistic approach to mental illness among Christians, the healing effects would be immeasurable.
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Previous posts in this series
Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness
The problem with “mental illness”
Pastoral thoughts on depression
Mental illness and suicide: the Church awakes
7 Questions about suicide and Christians