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Lack of sleep blights pupils education
The United States has the highest number of sleep-deprived students, with 73% of 9 and 10-year-olds and 80% of 13 and 14-year-olds identified by their teachers as being adversely affected.

The danger of heart neglect
Joe Thorn warns of three dangers

Crazy Talk: How we characterize mental illness
Amy Simpson argues that the church should be leading the way in de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Should we interpret Bible verses literally or figuratively?
This is a helpful starting guide to five different kinds of biblical literature and the different approaches each requires.

What is typology?
Another helpful primer on interpreting the Bible.

The little things I’ll miss
Barry York reflects on what he’ll miss when he leaves his congregation to become professor of practical theology at theReformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.


The Puritans on Medication for Mental Illness

The Puritans not only accepted the existence of medical causes for depression and other mental disorders, but they also proposed various medical remedies. Admittedly, some of their “treatments” were extremely primitive, but they clearly understood that there was some physical or medical elelement to some depressions.

After listing various spiritual and social remedies (we’ll consider some of these tomorrow), Richard Baxter says “If other means will not do, neglect not medicine.”  Just as in our own day, there was sometimes significant resistance to medication. Baxter’s solution? Force it down their throats!!

Though they will be averse to it, as believing that the disease is only in the mind, they must be persuaded or forced to it. I have known the lady deep in melancholy, who a long time would neither speak, nor take physic, nor endure her husband to go out of the room, and with the restraint and grief he died, and she was cured by physic put down her throat with a pipe by force.

While we would probably end up in prison if we tried such methods, Baxter’s basic insights on the role of medication and doctors are sound and have abiding value:

1. Choose a physician who is specially skilled in this disease, and has cured many others. He advises against consulting young men and busy men who don’t have time to sit down and carefully listen to the depressed person’s story. Interestingly, Baxter didn’t have any hang-ups about calling this a disease and grouping it with other physical illnesses: “The thinking faculty is diseased and become like an inflamed eye, or a foot that is sprained or out of joint, disabled for its proper work.”

2. Medicinal remedies and theological are not usually to be given together by the same hand. He does allow for exceptions to this, but as a general rule he says that if you have access to “an ancient, skillful, experienced, honest, careful, circumspect physician, neglect not to use him.”

3. The root of depression is in the blood and is often accompanied by other physical problems. Baxter believed that the blood carried the human spirit, and that if the blood was diseased, so was the human spirit, and other organs that the blood served. Although we might laugh at Baxter’s archaic understanding of the human body, his instincts were right, in seeing physical causes and consequences of this “mental” disease [and maybe he’s not so far off the truth after all: A blood test for mental illness]

4. Sometimes depression is caused by sudden shock. Baxter had seen otherwise sound-minds “suddenly cast into melancholy by a fright, or by the death of a friend, or by some great loss or cross, or some sad tidings, even in an hour.” Baxter said that this proved that the cause was not always found in the body, but his understanding of the mind/soul/body connections helped him to see that even the shocking impact of such news or events on the mind impacted the body too.

But the very act of the mind doth suddenly disorder the passions, and perturb the spirits; and the disturbed spirits, in time, vitiate the blood which containeth them; and the vitiated blood doth, in time, vitiate the viscera and parts which it passeth through; and so the disease beginning in the senses and soul, doth draw first the spirits, and then the humours [bodily fluids], and then the parts, into the fellowship, and soul and body are sick together.

5. The physician and pastor need great skill to know where the depression started. He must find out if it began “in the mind or in the body; and if in the body, whether in the blood, or in the viscera, for the cure must be fitted accordingly.”

6. Even if the depression have a psychological cause, medication can still have a role in curing it.

Though the disease begin in the mind and spirits, and the body be yet sound, yet physic [medication], even purging, often cureth it, though the patient say that drugs cannot cure souls, for the soul and body are wonderfully co-partners in their diseases and cure; and if we know not how it doth it, yet when experience telleth us that it doth it, we have reason to use such means.

7. Even if the depression was caused by demonic influence, medication may help to drive the devil out.

It is possible physic might cast him [the devil] out, for if you cure the melancholy, his bed is taken away, and the advantage gone by which he worketh. Cure the choler, and the choleric operations of the devil cease. It is by means and humours in us that he works.

Editorial N.B.
One modern editor of Baxter’s writing says of this section: “Of course Baxter was as unaware of modern biochemisty and physiology as he is of modern pharmacology. Nevertheless his insights are still valuable today…It may be appropriate to summarize this section of Baxter’s work as follows: those with depression of a spiritual nature, require spiritual counsel. Those whose depression is a result of somatic illness need medical care to correct that cause. People who suffer from endogenous depression may require both spiritual and medical treatment, depending on their case. Baxter’s advice about physicians is pertinent at this point.”

Other posts in this series:

7 Questions about suicide and Christians
Mental illness and suicide: the Church awakes
Pastoral thoughts on depression
The problem with “mental illness”
Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness
A Medical Test for Mental Illness
The Puritans and Mental Illness


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Full text or notes?
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3 Frustrations of Mental Health and the Church
Joe Padilla says that we need to re:THINK church support  so that “The focus is on relieving suffering and revealing Christ.”

A defense against pastoral burnout
Paul Tautges: “Without a plurality of shepherds, both the teaching pastor and the people suffer and do not experience the best the Lord has for them.”

Why we trust the Bible
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Proverbs for Christian Blogging: Don’t make your audience throw up
Mike Leake applies Proverbs 25:17 to blogging.


The Puritans and Mental Illness

“Depression is simply a modern idea dreamt up by God-defying psychiatrists, soul-denying psychologists, money-making drug companies, and blame-shifting sinners.”

Thought it?

You’ve almost certainly heard it.

However, depression has been around for much longer than you might think, and it has been accepted as genuine and treated seriously by some of the greatest Christian experts in soul care that God has ever given to His church – the Puritans. Yes, way back then, in days of spiritual revival and reformation, these spiritual giants and geniuses had deep insights into depression’s causes and cures that we would do well to learn from.

Richard Baxter, for example, wrote The Cure for Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, By Faith.

“Ah-ha! See. By faith. They saw it as a spiritual problem with a spiritual cure! So much for the Puritans backing up your modern theories.”

Read on, my friend. For sure, most of Baxter’s book is taken up with describing and curing spiritual depression. However, he does this only after carefully distinguishing spiritual depression (which is cured by faith) from physical depression (which is cured “by physic,” or as we would say, “by medicine”). In fact he has a whole section on “Medical care for those with depression” which we’ll get to tomorrow.

Causes and cures
Baxter asks, “What are the causes and cure of melancholy?” and answers:

“With many people most of the cause is in distemper, weakness, and disease of the body, and by it the soul is greatly disabled to any comfortable sense. But the more it comes from such natural necessity, it is the less sinful, and less dangerous to the soul, but still just as troublesome.”

He then goes on to identify “three diseases that cause too much sorrow.”

  • Those that consist in such violent pain as natural strength is unable to bear.
  • A natural passion, and weakness of that reason that should quiet passion (often seen in the elderly or debilitated).
  • When the brain and imagination are impaired, and reason partly overthrown by the disease called melancholy, or depression.

Baxter then goes on to list the signs and symptoms of this third category of disease.

Symptoms of clinical/medical depression
1. The trouble and disquiet of the mind becomes a settled habit. They can see nothing but matter of fear and trouble. All that they hear or do feeds it…In a word, fears, and troubles, and almost despair, are the constant temper of their minds.

2. If you convince them that they have some evidences of Christian sincerity, and that their fears are causeless, they may not disagree, and yet it does not take the trouble away, for the cause remains in their bodily disease.

3. Their misery is so much that they cannot but think of it. You may almost as well persuade a man not to shake in an fever, or not to feel when he is pained, as persuade them to cast away their self-troubling thoughts, or not to think all the enormous, confounding thoughts as they do, they cannot get them out of their heads night or day.

4. And when they are grown to this, they often seem to feel a voice within saying this or that to them, and they will not believe how much of it is a diseased imagination.

5. In this case they often think they have had revelations from God, often confusing Scripture or falsely applying it, and sometimes taking up errors in religion.

6. But the sadder, better sort, feeling this talk and stir within them, are sometimes apt to be confident that they are possessed by the devil

7. Most of them are violently haunted with blasphemous suggestions of ideas about God or Scripture, at which they tremble, and yet cannot keep them out of their mind.

8. When it is far gone, they are tempted to lay some law upon themselves never to speak more, or not to eat, and some of them starved themselves to death.

9. And when it is far gone, they often think that they have apparitions or some spirit touched or hurt them.

10. They avoid company, and can do nothing but sit alone and muse.

11. They cast off all business, and will not be brought to any diligent labour in their callings.

12. And when it comes to extremity, they are weary of their lives, sometimes become strongly tempted to take their own lives, which, alas, too many have done.

13. And if they escape this, when it is ripe, they become quite distracted.

Medical cures?
Tomorrow we will look at the cures Baxter suggests for this kind of melancholy, but note that at least part of it is medical. He says: “Choose a physician who is specially skilled in this disease, and has cured many others.” He advises against consulting “young, unexperienced men” and “hasty, busy, over-worked men, who cannot have time to study the patient’s temper and disease, but choose experienced, cautious men.”

UPDATE: Here’s The Puritans on Medication for Mental Illness

This post is is a contribution to A conversation about faith and mental illness. If you click through, you’ll find links to a number of great posts by Adrian Warnock on this subject.

Other posts in this series:

7 Questions about suicide and Christians
Mental illness and suicide: the Church awakes
Pastoral thoughts on depression
The problem with “mental illness”
Double Dangers: Maximizing and Minimizing Mental Illness
A Medical Test for Mental Illness


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Titus 2 Tuesday
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Apprenticeships could help US workers gain a competitive edge
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Sex after Christianity
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The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin
This looks like a fascinating book by one of the most remarkable women in the world.

Not “That”Kind of Housework
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