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Blue GenesBreaking free from the chemical imbalances that affect your mood, your mind, your life, and your loved ones
By Paul Meier Todd Clements Jean-Luc Bertrand David Mandt
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Dr. Paul Meier and Dr. Todd Clements
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBlue Genes: Hope and Healing for You and Your Family
When I taught counseling to future pastors at Trinity Seminary in Chicago, most of my students were loving, joyful, family-oriented, practical people, eager to bring joy to others. But I repeatedly noticed one very sad student, Charles Rausch. Not all my students laughed at my jokes, but I never saw Charles crack a smile at a joke or for any reason. I felt so sorry for Charles, I asked him if we could talk after class about his future, and he reluctantly agreed. I grabbed his student file, rushed to my office, and met him there. From his file I learned that Charles was married to an E.R. nurse and had three children, one for each year of the marriage so far. The family was living in poverty, with the couple refusing financial assistance from either set of parents, who had offered their help. I checked the test Charles had taken upon application to Trinity Seminary: the MMPI, the main psychological personality test given around the world. The results in Charles' case were somewhat shocking. He came out in the ninety-ninth percentile for depression and masochism (the need to suffer). I told Charles, "Man, with an MMPI like this, I'll bet you are planning on becoming a missionary to Ethiopia." "I am," he replied. I assured Charles, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to help the good people of Ethiopia if God calls you to do that. But I just want you to think about whether you are being called to Ethiopia by God-or by your demanding mother!" After seeing Charles weekly for counseling, I discovered Charles had an extensive family history of depression, with many relatives on both sides of his family tree who suffered from it. So I persuaded Charles to take an antidepressant for his inherited "blue genes," in his case, chronic dysthymia.
His "blue genes" were responsible for blocking Charles' path to happiness; clearly, he's not alone. The nation's attention was drawn to the same subject on January 17, 2005, when Time magazine devoted half of its subject matter to the topic of "blue genes." In-depth articles discussed happiness, depression and what the latest research reveals about genetic tendencies toward depression, the role of serotonin, and people's attitudes about inherited brain abnormalities.
The magazine cover featured a brightly colored smiley face and the word "happiness" in big print. Compelling questions leaped from the cover: "Is joy in your genes?" "Does God want us to be happy?"
What do you think about those questions?
In a message on Psalm 19 at the Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, Dr. Stan Toussaint (substituting for my regular pastor, Dr. Chuck Swindoll) detailed God's purposes for giving mankind the Holy Scriptures. The number one reason is to restore our souls. God's second purpose for giving us the Bible is to teach us wisdom, how to survive in this complex world. And God's third purpose, according to Psalm 19, is "happiness."
The New Testament tells us that God became man, Jesus Christ, to enable us to have abundant lives. Additionally, when a person develops the fruit of the Spirit of God, he or she should have love rather than hatred, prejudice and bitterness. We will have happiness rather than depression. We will have peace rather than anxiety.
Does God want us to be happy? Of course He does. Our happiness is not His primary concern, but it is part of His plan for us. Some religious legalists teach the opposite of Scripture: desiring happiness is somehow a sin, and a truly spiritual person will live like the monk in a cave, with a ten-year vow of silence, suffering daily while walking miles in the hot sun just to get some bread and water.
Wouldn't it be better for that monk to give up his masochism and pride in his "super spirituality" and get out in the real world to help restore the souls of unhappy people? In psychiatry this phenomenon is called a "reaction formation." In other words, some people are so arrogant that they have a reaction formation and go to great extremes to prove to themselves and others that they are extremely humble when they are not. If a husband keeps accusing his wife of having an affair, for example, he is almost certainly struggling against those acts himself. If a preacher preaches against the same sin every week, he is probably enmeshed in that sin himself, or a similar sin.
It's not wrong to be happy. Charles himself eventually found that balance in his life, thanks to a combination of medication and counseling. In his case, both treatments were required, though millions can be helped with medication alone, on the one hand, or counseling alone, on the other.
In fact, for some people the physical and mental "relief" from anti-depressants, sleeping pills or tranquilizers actually discourages them from looking inward. Their motivation to discover repressed emotions, improve environmental factors, and make wise life choices actually diminishes. Many of these people could work to heal relationships, change thought patterns, or confront problems by going to counseling. These changes actually have the ability to correct brain chemistry without medication.
Mary Mullens was a good example of that. Mary was a 46-year-old homemaker who had lifelong depression and who, since her teen years, had been treated by family doctors with a wide variety of psychiatric medications, which provided only minimal relief from her suicidal urges. She came to the Meier Day Program in the Dallas area, hoping to receive just the right combination of medications to finally rid her of her depression.
But the more her counselors got to know Mary, through seven hours a day of group, educational and individual counseling, the clearer it was that her problem was not genetic. Her father was a chauvinistic, critical, domineering man. Her mother was passive. Mary, like 85 percent of human beings, had married someone very much like her parent of the opposite sex-a critical, controlling attorney.
In all her thirty years of unsuccessfully trying antidepressant medication, Mary had never received insight-oriented counseling. But she was swamped with it for three straight weeks in the Day Program.
Throughout her treatment, Mary wept often, forgave her parents and others, reprogrammed her brain, and learned to stand up to the control of her father and husband. By the end of three weeks, she had recovered from her depression for the first time in her life.
Her husband regretted the day he brought Mary to the clinic. He lost control of his former slave, and even threatened to sue the clinic, but changed his mind when he found out what Mary had said about his many marital abuses. She refused to live with him unless he got extensive help, and it finally dawned on him what a jerk he had been all his life. After a few months of marital counseling, they moved back in together and have built quite a reasonable marriage in the past few years.
In a recent follow-up counseling session, Mary said her husband had been treating her well for several years now, in contrast to the years of verbal and even occasional physical abuse preceding his repentance. She said with a smile on her face, "He finally realized how much he really loves me and wants me to be there with him the rest of his life."
Counseling such as Mary's can lead to breakthroughs, but other factors also contribute. Dietary influences, for instance, may improve mental functioning by altering brain chemicals. Physicians have known for decades that the proper diet can make a difference in some depressed adults and children. Chapter 10 of this book contains a detailed picture of the way the food, nutrients, and vitamins we consume affect the brain.
In addition to counseling and nutrition, today an array of medications provides hope for those suffering from mental health disorders.
As medical knowledge rapidly progresses, researchers theorize that many mental health disorders may be due, in part, to genetic factors. The January 17 Time magazine articles estimated that up to 50 percent of the world's population might have an underlying genetic propensity for mental health problems.
That means the 50 percent of those of us "lucky enough" to have blue genes often suffer from more psychiatric problems than the other half of the population. We are more prone to depression, sadness and anger, especially under stressful circumstances. The way our brains handle stress leads to abnormalities in the four major brain chemicals needed to prevent depression and anxiety. About 20 percent of the population either requires lifelong psychiatric medications to avoid depression and other mental disorders, or they would enjoy great benefits from modern-day psychiatric medications.
I have rather severe ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) Before taking ADHD medications, I would sometimes make impulsive decisions that affected my family, such as blurting out negative comments or making impulsive financial decisions that hurt the family budget. By taking ADHD medications every day, I can stay focused and organized and do a better job of being a family member and practicing psychiatry with my clients. They also help me write more articles and books. In my practice of medicine, without these ADHD meds, I could make multiple mistakes, such as leaving dates off prescriptions, losing focus while clients are sharing extremely pertinent data, and so on. Moreover, I write about two or three books every year while on medications and could write only one book every two or three years without them. So if I were too prideful to admit that I had any mental dysfunction, and I refused to take psychiatric medications, I would hinder God, Who gave me that biochemical disability for a reason, using my books, radio talk shows, and TV guest appearances to influence millions of people for His cause. I would be taking the "all natural" route to impress my "new-age" neighbors (and legalistic believers), but accomplish one-third as much for Jesus and for my family.
There is no stigma for people who take thyroid medications for inherited thyroid hormone deficiencies. Millions of diabetics take daily insulin injections giving little thought to the fact that many of them inherited their pancreatic deficiencies. Yet, when it comes to mental health issues many people refuse to accept the notion of inherited abnormalities in brain chemicals. Instead, they suddenly become falsely ashamed and believe they have a character weakness. There is nothing in their lives to cause true guilt, only false guilt.
Are you ashamed when you take aspirin for a headache? Are you ashamed when you take an antibiotic for an infection? No, certainly not! These medications help your body where it is weak, where and when your body does not have enough strength to keep you in good health. Again, the brain is simply one more organ in this imperfect, fallen body God has given us, like the thyroid or pancreas. There is no difference, except in our cultural prejudices.
Some ignorant people will even criticize you for taking a psychiatric medication even though it helps you function better in daily life. Usually people who criticize others the most for taking medicines for the brain are people who have the most brain chemical deficiencies themselves.
When Benjamin Franklin discovered bifocals, some ignorant people called them "devil eyes." In those days, people who wore glasses were often criticized. They were even told by Christian legalists that if they had enough faith in God, He would heal their poor eyesight. This heaped false guilt on people with poor vision whether they wore glasses or not. The same kinds of people today say similar foolish things to people who suffer depression, perfectionism (obsessive-compulsive disorder is severe perfectionism), anxiety, mood swings, schizophrenia, social phobia, paranoia, or even ADHD.
Several years ago, two students at Dallas Theological Seminary became psychotic around the same time. They experienced grandiose and paranoid delusions along with auditory hallucinations (hearing audible voices). They had both inherited schizophrenia, a genetic disorder that affects one percent of the population with symptoms beginning in the late teens or early 20's (though seldom after age 30). Several professors encouraged them to seek treatment in a psychiatric hospital, where both were given medications to correct their dopamine imbalances and restore them to normal within a few weeks, with the help of life-long medication.
One student continued on the medication and fully recovered. He finished seminary, then became a senior pastor at a sizable church and has been quite successful ever since.
The other student grew up in a legalistic church where medications that affected the brain were considered sinful. His pastor visited the hospital and persuaded the young seminarian to discharge early and stop taking medication. The pastor reasoned if this man had enough faith, he would be healed. That student never recovered and continues to be delusional and nonfunctional in society today. He still has the delusion that he is the governor of a large state and hears imaginary voices. His pastor blamed his lack of faith. Shouldn't the blame instead be placed on a pastor who refused to let God work through medication to restore a young man's life?
In the 1990s, an Israeli social worker who was a believer in Yeshua (Jesus), traveled to America for treatment in the Meier Day Program. She suffered from lifelong, severe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which drove her to the point of daily suicidal urges. Still, she loved God and was very faithful in serving Him. She had an underlying genetic disorder involving serotonin. A serotonin antidepressant along with a proper diet resolved her obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors allowing her to experience joy and peace for the first time in her life.
When she returned to Israel, her synagogue convinced her that it was wrong to take medications for the brain. They convinced her that even though medications for medical illnesses were fine, psychiatric problems should totally rely on faith and prayer. So she stopped her medications and within a few weeks the obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors and daily suicidal urges returned. The synagogue leaders blamed the relapse on her lack of faith. This filled her with intense remorse and guilt. To escape the pain, she committed suicide by hanging herself.
In time, and after being confronted about their attitudes, many members of the congregation at last accepted the notion that mental disorders can be due to factors other than lack of faith. Several members repented of their words and actions toward the social worker. They were good people with good intentions, but they were still living in the dark ages when it came to medical and biblical understanding. Now, that same synagogue uses several of Dr. Meier's books on genetic disorders when they encounter individuals with "blue genes."
When patients refuse psychiatric medications because they have been erroneously taught that all psychiatric problems are spiritual, their lives and those of their families are deeply affected. Consider the examples just presented: The student who humbled himself to take lifelong medication that helps correct his chemical imbalance was able to marry, raise a family, and serve God in an effective, lifelong pastoral ministry. The other seminary student and the Israeli social worker never married, raised children, or served God in an effective way. Both of them most likely would have gone on to live productive and quite normal lives if they had not refused biochemical help.
Most of the people who condemn or criticize others for taking anything "not natural," or for not relying totally on prayer and faith are acting out of ignorance. Clearly it is possible for any believer to live a life of deep faith and devotion while on psychiatric medication. After all, if your car runs out of power-steering fluid, you pull over and pray, but you also call Triple-A (or other help). In the same way, you need to get help when your brain runs out of its power-steering fluid, which is serotonin.
Excerpted from Blue Genes by Paul Meier Todd Clements Jean-Luc Bertrand David Mandt Copyright © 2005 by Dr. Paul Meier and Dr. Todd Clements. Excerpted by permission.
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