by david kupelian
Why so many Americans today are ‘mentally ill’
Posted: August 14, 2007
1:00 a.m. Eastern“When I was lying in my bed that night, I couldn’t sleep because my voice in my head kept echoing through my mind telling me to kill them.” You’re reading the words of 12-year-old Christopher Pittman, struggling to explain why he murdered his grandparents, who had provided the only love and stability in his turbulent life. He was angry with his grandfather, who had disciplined him earlier that day for hurting another student during a fight on the school bus. So later that night, he shot both of his grandparents in the head with a .410 shotgun as they slept and then burned down their South Carolina home, where he had lived with them.“I got up, got the gun, and I went upstairs and I pulled the trigger,” he recalled. “Through the whole thing, it was like watching your favorite TV show. You know what is going to happen, but you can’t do anything to stop it.”His lawyers would later argue the boy had been a victim of “involuntary intoxication,” since Pittman’s doctors had him taking the antidepressants Paxil and Zoloft just prior to the murders.Paxil’s known “adverse drug reactions” – according to the drug’s 2001 FDA-approved label – include “mania,” “insomnia,” “anxiety,” “agitation,” “confusion,” “amnesia,” “depression,” “paranoid reaction,” “psychosis,” “hostility,” “delirium,” “hallucinations,” “abnormal thinking,” “depersonalization” and “lack of emotion,” among others.
Andrea Yates, in one of the most horrifying and heartbreaking crimes in modern history, drowned all five of her children – aged 7 years down to 6 months – in a bathtub. Insisting inner voices commanded her to kill her kids, she had become increasingly psychotic over the course of several years. At her 2006 murder re-trial, Yates’ longtime friend Debbie Holmes testified: “She asked me if I thought Satan could read her mind and if I believed in demon possession.” And Dr. George Ringholz, after evaluating Yates for two days, recounted an experience she had after the birth of her first child:
“What she described was feeling a presence … Satan … telling her to take a knife and stab her son Noah,” Ringholz said, adding that Yates’ delusion at the time of the bathtub murders was not only that she had to kill her children to save them, but that Satan had entered her and that she had to be executed in order to kill Satan.
Yates had been taking the antidepressant Effexor. In November 2005, more than four years after Yates drowned her children, Effexor manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals quietly added “homicidal ideation” to the drug’s list of “rare adverse events.” The Medical Accountability Network, a private nonprofit focused on medical ethics issues, publicly criticized Wyeth, saying Effexor’s “homicidal ideation” risk wasn’t well-publicized and that Wyeth failed to send letters to doctors or issue warning labels announcing the change.
And what exactly does “rare” mean in the phrase “rare adverse events”? The FDA defines it as occurring in less than one in 1,000 people. But since, according to an Associated Press report, about 19.2 million prescriptions for Effexor were filled in the U.S. alone in 2005, statistically that means thousands of Americans could experience “homicidal ideation” – murderous thoughts – as a result of taking just this one brand of antidepressant drug.
Effexor is Wyeth’s best-selling drug, by the way, bringing in $3.46 billion – with a “b” – in sales worldwide in 2005, almost one-fifth of the company’s total revenues.
Columbine mass-killer Eric Harris was taking Luvox – like Paxil and Zoloft (and trendsetter Prozac), a modern and widely prescribed type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. Harris and fellow student Dylan Klebold went on a hellish school shooting rampage in 1999 during which they killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 24 others before turning their guns on themselves.
Luvox manufacturer Solvay Pharmaceuticals concedes that during short-term controlled clinical trials 4 percent of children and youth taking Luvox – that’s 1 in 25 – developed mania, a dangerous and violence-prone mental derangement characterized by extreme excitement and delusion.
The inescapable truth is, perpetrators of many of the nation’s most horrendous murder rampages in recent years were taking, or just coming off of, prescribed psychiatric drugs.
Most recently, authorities investigating Cho Seung-Hui, who murdered 32 at Virginia Tech in April, reportedly found “prescription drugs” for the treatment of psychological problems among his possessions. While the coroner reported no drugs were found in Cho’s bloodstream on the day of the crime, April 16, the killer’s roommate Joseph Aust told the Richmond Times-Dispatch Cho’s routine each morning had included taking prescription drugs.
So what kind of meds might Cho have been taking? Strangely, his medical records have yet to be released to the public – authorities claiming it’s because an investigation is still ongoing, although critics suggest the purpose may be to protect the drug companies from liability claims.
Indeed, pharmaceutical manufacturers are nervous about lawsuits over the “rare adverse effects” of their mood-altering medications. To avoid costly settlements and public relations catastrophes – such as when GlaxoSmithKline was ordered to pay $6.4 million to the family of 60-year-old Donald Schnell who murdered his wife, daughter and granddaughter in a fit of rage shortly after starting on Paxil – drug companies’ legal teams have quietly and skillfully settled hundreds of cases out-of-court, shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to plaintiffs. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly fought scores of legal claims against Prozac in this way, settling for cash before the complaint could go to court while stipulating that the settlement remain secret – and then claiming it had never lost a Prozac lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the list of killers who happened to be taking psychiatric medications is long and chilling. Remember these headline names?
- Patrick Purdy’s 1989 schoolyard shooting rampage in Stockton, Calif., was the catalyst for the legislative frenzy to ban “semiautomatic assault weapons” in California and the nation. The 25-year-old Purdy, who murdered five children and wounded 30, had been on Amitriptyline, an antidepressant, as well as the antipsychotic drug Thorazine.
- Kip Kinkel, 15, murdered his parents in 1998 and the next day went to his school, Thurston High in Springfield, Ore., and opened fire on his classmates, killing two and wounding 22 others. He had been prescribed both Prozac and Ritalin.
- In 1988, 31-year-old Laurie Dann went on a shooting rampage in a second-grade classroom in Winnetka, Ill., killing one child and wounding six. She had been taking the antidepressant Anafranil as well as Lithium, long used to treat mania.
- In Paducah, Ky., in late 1997, 14-year-old Michael Carneal, son of a prominent attorney, traveled to Heath High School and started shooting students in a prayer meeting taking place in the school’s lobby, killing three and leaving another paralyzed. Carneal reportedly was on Ritalin.
- In 2005, 16-year-old Native American Jeff Weise, living on Minnesota’s Red Lake Indian Reservation, shot and killed nine people and wounded five others before killing himself. Weise had been taking Prozac.
- In another famous case, 47-year-old Joseph T. Wesbecker, just a month after he began taking Prozac, shot 20 workers at Standard Gravure Corp. in Louisville, Ky., killing nine. Prozac-maker Eli Lilly later settled a lawsuit brought by survivors.
- Kurt Danysh, 18, shot his own father to death in 1996, a little more than two weeks after starting on Prozac. Danysh’s description of own his mental-emotional state at the time of the murder sounded strikingly similar to that of 12-year-old Christopher Pittman, who had shot his grandparents while on psychiatric meds. “I didn’t realize I did it until after it was done,” Danysh said. “This might sound weird, but it felt like I had no control of what I was doing, like I was left there just holding a gun.”
These are only a few of the best-known offenders who had been taking prescribed psychiatric drugs before committing their violent crimes – there are many others.
Substituting pills for couches
When the subject of violent crimes and linkage to psychiatric drugs comes up, two distinct views emerge.
The mental-health establishment’s view is that these drugs have no “proven” role in enabling such horrific deeds, or at least that their benefits far outweigh whatever negative reactions may rarely occur. According to this view, of the millions of people taking these medications the vast majority are helped and the few who end up committing violent acts probably would have snapped anyway – with or without the drugs.
The other, contrarian view is that the drugs are dangerous and harmful, turning previously nonviolent people into homicidal maniacs. At a very minimum, critics contend, the meds push some individuals, already living on the edge of sanity, over the edge into violence. In addition to a growing corps of health professionals and a sizeable pile of peer-reviewed studies corroborating this view, the drug companies themselves – compelled by FDA labeling requirements – bolster it with their “black box” label warnings of increased “suicidal ideation” risk and other negative effects.
But let’s pause, putting aside for a moment the dogma of all the “experts,” and consider carefully and deeply what we’re really looking at.
We are talking about human beings who have somehow developed a secret inner life dominated by exceedingly dark thoughts and compulsions. Wild mood swings. Horrible, consuming resentment teetering on the edge of violent frenzy. Paranoid delusions fueled by intense emotion. Satanic visitations and inner voices that torment people mercilessly, sometimes for years, commanding them to commit murder or suicide – or both.
Does this really sound to you like a physiological problem in need of drugs? Sound like a disease? A biochemical imbalance in the brain? Neurotransmitter activity that’s too sluggish?
Or does it possibly sound like something much more mental-emotional, even spiritual, in origin?
The truth is, if we think we can solve problems like these with pills, we might be just as delusional as the people we’re trying to help.
Before we go on, let’s state the obvious: There are genuine, organic brain diseases that may benefit from drug therapy – but these are relatively rare. And there are also instances where an individual is so psychotic as to pose a direct danger to him/herself and others, where sedation might be appropriate. But what I’m writing about here is the overwhelming majority of cases where psychiatric drugs are unwisely relied on to fix Americans’ mental-emotional-spiritual problems.
In search of a quick, painless fix for the problems we develop when we fail to deal with the stresses of life properly, we’ve become a nation of drug-takers. Millions of us “medicate” the pain of life away by taking illegal drugs. And millions more take prescription drugs to accomplish much the same thing. As Fortune magazine reported in November 2005:
Nearly 150 million U.S. prescriptions were dispensed in 2004 for SSRIs and similar antidepressants called SNRIs, according to IMS Health, a Fairfield, Conn., drug data and consulting company – more than for any other drug except codeine. Perhaps one out of 20 adult Americans are on them now, making brands like Zoloft, GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil, Forest Laboratories’ Celexa, and Solvay Pharmaceuticals’ Luvox household names. Though they don’t work for everybody – many people have gone off the medicines because of side effects such as dampening of sexual response – they’ve done more than any other class of drugs to spur psychiatry’s substitution of pills for couches.In fact, we’re popping so many SSRIs that their breakdown products in urine, gushing into waterways, have accumulated in fish tissues, raising concerns that aquatic animals may be getting toxic doses, according to recent research at Baylor University.
When we’ve gotten to the point of poisoning fish, you know we’re talking about a lot of drugs. And that’s counting only antidepressants. What about all the other types of psychiatric meds we consume, including the tens of millions of prescriptions for Ritalin and other controversial stimulants taken by children and adults diagnosed with ADD (or ADHD) – a condition that didn’t even exist until the 1980s?
Not too long ago, the counseling arts recognized that people suffering from mental-emotional, developmental problems needed self-understanding first and foremost. This was a noble and vital goal. But today, as Fortune points out, psychiatry has substituted “pills for couches.” Like mad scientists, our “experts” fool around with the intricacies of people’s brains, monkeying with the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine to artificially “elevate mood.”
Thus we have the spectacle of troubled people coming to mental-health experts with serious personal problems – emotional conflicts, fears, obsessions, compulsions and perhaps delusions rooted in early trauma, or in seriously flawed family relationships, or in buried resentments toward cruelty and injustice that were never resolved but just festered and grew. Yet, instead of being helped to understand where they’ve gone wrong, or where their negative programming, unhealthy relationships and destructive attitudes came from so they can correct them and find genuine healing, they’re given clever drugs designed to chemically trick the body and mind into “feeling better.”
And then, when they discontinue taking the drugs, they risk serious deterioration of their condition. But isn’t that exactly what happens when we just mask symptoms and ignore root causes?
Moreover, why do even the smartest and most educated of our experts today tend reflexively to ignore root causes?
Because root causes have to do with God and our relationship, or lack thereof, with Him.
I guarantee that many people who read that last sentence either glazed over it or were somehow put off by it.
I’ll say it again using different words: We need to wake up to the spiritual dimension of life or we will never be able to understand what goes wrong with us, or to genuinely resolve our problems.
Unfortunately, right now many of us are in love with the idea that there is no God. Books currently riding high atop national best-seller lists include “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens, “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris – all of them unapologetically rabid atheist manifestos.
For an atheist, the problem here is that although you can still be a good engineer or a skillful surgeon, if you’re trying to help people who are full of rage and conflict and plagued by dark thoughts and malevolent inner voices urging them to kill people, you’re worse than clueless. Worse because your lethal combination of prideful arrogance and utter lack of comprehension of what you’re actually dealing with will inevitably lead you to “fix” such problems in ways that not only don’t help people, but vastly multiply their woes – and those of their victims.
Don’t worry, it’s not your fault
Until the last 50 years or so, Western man believed the Creator put us here on this magnificent globe we call earth, and that we, alone among all creatures, were given the ability – and destiny – to choose between good and evil.
Today’s cultural elite, including those in the healing arts, basically don’t recognize the existence of God, morality, good and evil, righteousness and sin. In other words, they don’t understand what life is all about – that each and every one of us on this earth is appealed to, from just beyond the visible world, by a dimension of good and a dimension of evil, which we call Heaven and Hell. And that by heeding the wrong impulses we get into serious trouble.
Instead, they look at man and see a soulless human animal whose behavior problems are mostly genetic or organic in origin and, in any event, manageable with drugs.
The truth is, most mental-health pill-dispensing practitioners don’t really understand why people become “clinically depressed” or why some women experience “postpartum depression” and the like. Go search WebMD and five or 10 other websites on postpartum depression (or most any other psychiatric condition for that matter). You’ll be stunned at the lack of real substance and insight with regard to what causes it. Instead, you’ll read something like, “The causes haven’t been pinpointed yet,” along with reams of authoritative-sounding data on symptoms and predisposing factors and what drugs to take and how valuable it is to have a support group and what vitamins help in recovery and so on. But no one will tell you what on earth would make a woman want to kill herself after she gives birth to her child. They don’t know.
Yet, can there be any doubt that somewhere there are real, understandable reasons for this and other syndromes – reasons a normal person with common sense could comprehend and act upon, and find real healing, if only the “expert” counseling them knew what they were talking about?
While understanding is in short supply today, the mental-health establishment is great at naming syndromes and conditions – probably to give the rest of us the impression they know more than they really do.
Are you a normal boy who doesn’t really like shutting up and sitting at a desk for six hours a day listening to some boring teacher? You may have “attention deficit disorder.” Are you an angry volcano inside? Then you suffer from “intermittent explosive disorder.” Do you get drunk to deal with your problems? That used to be considered a moral failing, a character weakness, a failure to face your problems with courage and honesty. Now, of course, it’s a disease called “alcoholism.”
Today, everything is physiological and genetic and treated with drugs. Nothing is your fault. You’re an innocent victim.
Furthermore, many of us like it that way. We like the idea that whatever is wrong with us is an organic disorder, that there’s no sin, no weakness, no deficit of character on our part. Our egos love that, it comforts us.
In July 2005, actress Brooke Shields told the New York Times about her postpartum depression: “In a strange way, it was comforting to me when my obstetrician told me that my feelings of extreme despair and my suicidal thoughts were directly tied to a biochemical shift in my body. Once we admit that postpartum is a serious medical condition, then the treatment becomes more available and socially acceptable. With a doctor’s care, I have since tapered off the medication, but without it, I wouldn’t have become the loving parent I am today.”
Brooke Shields is a lovely and principled lady, but I assure you that God did not design us to be depressed and suicidal after childbirth. We would do better to stop blaming all our psychological-spiritual problems on chemical imbalances.
Drugging our conscience
I began to suspect psychiatric meds were problematic three decades ago after a conversation with a friend who, to relieve her anxiety, had been taking the sedative Valium – then the nation’s top-selling pharmaceutical. A spiritually perceptive lady, she summarized her experience this way: “David, do you know what the Valium did for me? It deactivated my conscience.”
And just recently, another Christian lady anonymously wrote a highly thought-provoking essay – primarily for the benefit of other female members in her church – on the effect antidepressants had on her.
Stressed-out and depressed, she had sought her pastor’s spiritual counsel – and he told her to go on antidepressants.
“Not a word was said about my sinful attitudes regarding my responsibilities, and there were no offers of practical help,” she wrote. “Just go to the doctor. He proceeded to tell me about many other women in our church who had taken his advice and were doing great. In retrospect, this makes sense – ours was a ‘happy church.’ No one seemed to struggle with any serious life issues. Only smiling, happy greetings and small talk. Imagine the ‘Stepford Wives’ at church and you’ll get the picture.”
Within weeks, she wrote, she was feeling better. “By two months into treatment I was doing swimmingly, smiling and small-talking with the best of them. … I was handling the stress better and sleeping well. Most of my physical complaints were gone, and I felt very capable. Life went on.”
Five years later, unhappy with their “happy” church, she and her husband sought out and joined a more traditional and biblical church “where sin is called sin, and people are held accountable.”
At the new church, she said, “I met people who grieve over their sin. … This was foreign to me. I have never cried over my sin. I have felt bad for my sin, but I have never truly grieved over it. … I began to think that perhaps that little pill that was meant to ‘take the edge off’ was preventing me from grieving over sin. One thing I had noticed since being on it was that I could not cry. Nothing could bring me to tears, and I mean nothing. I didn’t even cry when my dad died, not even as I watched him take his last breath, uncertain where he would spend eternity. No tears. … ”
After much thought and prayer, she finally decided to get off her medication. As a result, she wrote:
Last week, after I sinned in anger at my son, I was grieved! I had asked for forgiveness from him and from the Lord, but I could not deny a deep sense of grief in my soul as I realized this had been a pattern of sinful anger for years. I had committed this same sin many times before, but felt justified, either by stressful circumstances in my life or by my son’s bad behavior. I had never before felt such grief over my own sin, and I knew I could not indulge one more outburst like this.
The antidepressants, she concluded, had “blurred the ends of the emotional spectrum, so that I experienced neither deep sadness nor great joy. I have now come to appreciate that both are vital to the Christian life. Oh, I was somewhat happy, and able to cope with life quite well, but the edge was off, not only from my sadness, but from my joy as well.”
She added: “In the beginning, the drug was good, because it enabled me to think rationally and come out of my basement. If I had used that rational thinking to get a grip on the sin that was pulling me down into depression, I could have dealt with it biblically, and been off the drug in short order. But I did not. I became dependent on those pills and was gradually numbed to the seriousness of my sin. By God’s grace, I came to the recognition that this drug could be stunting my spiritual growth, and that turned out to be exactly the case.”
The possibility that psychiatric drugs could impair our conscience should not come as a shock. We know people do bad things under the influence of alcohol, crack and meth that they wouldn’t do otherwise. Is it so hard, then, to comprehend that some legal drugs can also obscure or eliminate our awareness of conscience? After all, what does “feeling better” often involve but the elimination of conflict? And what is conflict but the evidence inside us that we’ve done something wrong – something contrary to our conscience? Getting rid of conflict, then, often involves blotting out our conscience!
But the problem with that is, conscience is literally the presence of God in us, the friction between the way we are and the way He wants us to be. We experience this correcting and illuminating presence – which is actually our greatest friend (like Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s “Pinocchio”) – as a psychic pain when we deviate from its urgings. Thus, many of us foolishly come to regard conscience as a problem, even an enemy.
Healing through forgiveness
God is not far away or elusive, He’s ever-present. But we block His help and His life in us when we escape from our conscience in various ways – especially when we lose sight of our own faults through being angry at those of others.
I wonder, is it just possible that the Lord’s Prayer – the blueprint Jesus Christ gave us for how to relate to God – could provide insight on how to heal what we call “mental illness”? Let’s take a fresh look:
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread.And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 KJV)
Think about this for a minute. Jesus starts out by telling us to honor God and humble our will before His and seek His continued sustenance. (No problem, we think.)
Later He advises us to ask God’s protection as we acknowledge His supremacy in all things. (Great, makes perfect sense, we think.)
But in between comes one line that delivers the essential, life-changing commandment – it’s the nuclear core of His message, the fulcrum of change in our lives, the place where miraculous things happen to us – or don’t, if we don’t heed it:
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
This is where we live or die spiritually, it’s where we find true happiness and innocence, or conflict and separation from God.
In fact, immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus re-emphasizes the forgiveness requirement in the starkest terms imaginable, to make sure nobody misses His most crucial point:
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Wow. That gets my attention.
Forgiveness – that is, finding the grace to give up anger and resentment at injustice – is healing. The problem is, anger and rage (unforgiveness) feed our pride, a part of our makeup that cannot live without constant meals of impatience, resentment and emotional upset. So until we’re ready to let the life of pride and sin inside us wither and die, we find it pretty much impossible to truly forgive. Anger is like a drug – even worse, like a nutrient – for our wrong self.
Ever wonder why we use the word “mad” to mean both angry and insane? Very simply, if someone does something wrong to you and you get angry, you’ve just become a little bit insane. Now multiply that single event by 1,000 or 10,000 and let the pile of angry reactions and upsets build and smolder for years, and you’ll see that every conceivable manner of strange behavior, programming, compulsion and delusion can easily take root in us.
Example: In the Islamic world, millions of children are nourished on hatred from the day they’re born – hatred of Jews, Christians, Americans, women, pigs, you name it – and they reliably grow up into crazy, death-loving jihadists. It’s like an assembly line with good quality control; you can count on the outcome. Infect them with hatred from birth, and you’re guaranteed a good recruit in the Mahdi army a few years later. Do you get it? It’s the hatred that allows the conditioning – the insane, ungodly, alien programming – to take hold of their minds.
As a child, people bigger and meaner than you make you upset, and when you’re upset you’re suggestible or programmable – and that’s when you pick up your conditioning. Then, no matter how crazy or illogical or self-destructive your programming, you’ll defend it – because it feels like the real you.
So, nourished by this nutrient-base of suppressed rage and resentment, and reinforced each passing day by new angers and irritations, we grow up tangled and conflicted. We all suffer in varying degrees from this madness – covered up, of course, by smiles and self-deception. It’s why we need salvation.
Who’s talking in my head?
Some of us, unfortunately, become so lost in our inner, angry, delusional world, so identified with the dark thoughts and impulses that occur to us, that we allow an evil entity of some sort to take up residence within us.
Some years back, a 24-year-old Mexican male traumatized the small community in which I live by kidnapping, torturing, raping and murdering two 11-year-old girls. (I was acquainted with one of the victim’s families.) The perpetrator later confessed to authorities that he heard inner voices and gave himself over to their commands, acting out their demonic suggestions. Same with David Berkowitz, the notorious “Son of Sam” serial killer who terrorized New York City during the 1970s. Berkowitz claimed his neighbor’s dog, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon and that it commanded Berkowitz to kill. Andrea Yates heard voices in her head for years. The examples are legion.
This “voices” phenomenon is very common – drugs or no drugs – and not just among crazies and criminals. In fact, it’s more common than we’d like to think. Remember all those Bible passages in which Jesus exorcises “unclean spirits” or “devils”? Let’s revisit one of them:
And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? What new doctrine is this? For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him. (Mar 1:23-27 KJV)
Although Jesus “cast out” demons left and right, today most of us scoff at the very idea. Even if we cautiously acknowledge it – it is obviously biblical, after all – we’re still uncomfortable with it. For us, demonic possession conjures up images of “The Exorcist” and child-actress Linda Blair’s head spinning and spewing green projectile vomit.
Yet, a quarter century ago, the chief psychologist at a major California mental hospital conducted an extraordinary study of the inner voices patients heard. Wilson Van Dusen worked among the mentally ill for 17 years at the Mendocino State Hospital – originally Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane – established in 1889.
In his treatise, titled “The Presence of Spirits in Madness,” Van Dusen provided a window into the inner experience of his patients’ “hallucinations.” Note that these were not criminally insane people who had perpetrated violent acts, but rather were simply “mentally ill” individuals who had been committed to the institution. So their condition was not as serious or dangerous as that of the criminal perpetrators referenced earlier.
“Out of my professional role as a clinical psychologist in a state mental hospital and my own personal interest, I set out to describe as faithfully as possible mental patients’ experiences of hallucinations,” he wrote:
The average layman’s picture of the mentally ill as raving lunatics is far from reality. Most of these people have become entangled in inner processes and simply fail to manage their lives well.After dealing with hundreds of such patients, I discovered about four years ago that it was possible to speak to their hallucinations. To do so I looked for patients who could distinguish between their own thoughts and the things they heard and saw in the world of hallucinations. The patient was told that I simply wanted to get as accurate a description of their experiences as possible. I held out no hope for recovery or special reward. It soon became apparent that many were embarrassed by what they saw and heard and hence they concealed it from others.
Also they knew their experiences were not shared by others, and some were even concerned that their reputations would suffer if they revealed the obscene nature of their voices. It took some care to make the patients comfortable enough to reveal their experience honestly. A further complication was that the voices were sometimes frightened of me and themselves needed reassurance. I struck up a relationship with both the patient and the persons he saw and heard. I would question these other persons directly, and instructed the patient to give a word-for-word account of what the voices answered or what was seen. In this way I could hold long dialogues with a patient’s hallucinations and record both my questions and their answers.
One consistent finding was that patients felt they had contact with another world or order of beings. Most thought these other persons were living persons. All objected to the term hallucination. Each coined his own term such as The Other Order, the Eavesdroppers, etc.
For most individuals the hallucinations came on suddenly. One woman was working in a garden when an unseen man addressed her. Another man described sudden loud noises and voices he heard while riding in a bus. Most were frightened, and adjusted with difficulty to this new experience. All patients describe voices as having the quality of a real voice, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, than normal voices. The experience they describe is quite unlike thoughts or fantasies. When things are seen they appear fully real. … Most patients soon realize that they are having experiences that others do not share, and for this reason learn to keep quiet about them. Many suffer insults, threats and attacks for years from voices with no one around them aware of it. Women have reported hearing such vile things they felt it would reflect on them should they even be mentioned.
… Lower order voices are as though one is dealing with drunken bums at a bar who like to tease and torment just for the fun of it. They will suggest lewd acts and then scold the patient for considering them. They find a weak point of conscience and work on it interminably. For instance, one man heard voices teasing him for three years over a ten-cent debt he had already paid. They call the patient every conceivable name, suggest every lewd act, steal memories or ideas right out of consciousness, threaten death, and work on the patient’s credibility in every way. For instance they will brag that they will produce some disaster on the morrow and then claim honor for one in the daily paper. They suggest foolish acts (such as: Raise your right hand in the air and stay that way) and tease if he does it and threaten him if he doesn’t. The lower order can work for a long time to possess some part of the patient’s body. Several worked on the ear and the patient seemed to grow deafer. One voice worked two years to capture a patient’s eye which visibly went out of alignment. Many patients have heard loud and clear voices plotting their death for weeks on end, an apparently nerve-wracking experience. One patient saw a noose around his neck which tied to “I don’t know what” while voices plotted his death by hanging. They threaten pain and can cause felt pain as a way of enforcing their power. The most devastating experience of all is to be shouted at constantly by dozens of voices. When this occurred the patient had to be sedated.
All of the lower order are irreligious or anti-religious. Some actively interfered with the patients’ religious practices. Most considered them to be ordinary living people, though once they appeared as conventional devils and referred to themselves as demons. In a few instances they referred to themselves as from hell. Occasionally they would speak through the patient so that the patient’s voice and speech would be directly those of the voices. Sometimes they acted through the patient.
In his treatise, Van Dusen revealed that he later discovered striking parallels between his own clinical observations of the “hallucinations” of “mentally ill” patients and the writings of 18th century Swedish scientist, Christian mystic and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. As Van Dusen explained it:
Swedenborg describes all of life as a hierarchy of beings representing essentially different orders and yet acting in correspondence with each other. The Lord acts through celestial angels, who in turn correspond on a lower level to spiritual angels, who in turn correspond to a third lower heaven – all of which corresponds to and acts into man. On the opposite side there are three levels of hell acting out of direct contact into man. Man is the free space and meeting ground of these great hierarchies. In effect, good and its opposite evil rule through this hierarchy of beings down to man who stands in the free space between them. Out of his experiences and choices he identifies with either or both sides.These influences coming from both sides are the very life of man. The man who takes pride in his own powers tends toward the evil side. The man who acknowledges that he is the receptacle of all that is good, even the power to think and to feel, tends toward the good side.
Scary stuff. But the obvious question is, how do we avoid falling into this nightmarish mental world that entraps so many whom we label “mentally ill”?
Advice from an angel
An excellent and insightful description of this “tug of war” between Heaven and Hell for the body, mind and soul of each of us is found in the ancient Christian book “The Shepherd of Hermas.” Though not part of the canon of the Holy Bible, “Hermas” was widely revered by the early Christians, praised by church leaders like Tertullian, St. Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and was frequently read publicly in early churches to edify the faithful.
A passage describing a conversation between Hermas, a shepherd, and an angel who has been instructing him on how to live a life pleasing to God, is titled “That every man has two angels and of the suggestions of both.” The angel says to Hermas:
7 … There are two angels with man; one of righteousness, the other of iniquity.8 And I said unto him, Sir, how shall I know that there are two such angels with man? Hear, says he, and understand.
9 The angel of righteousness, is mild and modest, and gentle, and quiet. When, therefore, he gets into thy heart, immediately he talks with thee of righteousness, of modesty, of chastity, of bountifulness, of forgiveness, of charity, and piety.
10 When all these things come into thy heart, know then that the angel of righteousness is with thee. Wherefore hearken to this angel and to his works.
11 Learn also the works of the angel of iniquity. He is first of all bitter, and angry, and foolish; and his works are pernicious, and overthrow the servants of God. When therefore these things come into thine heart; thou shalt know by his works, that this is the angel of iniquity.
12 And I said unto him, Sir, how shall I understand these things? Hear, says he, and understand; When anger overtakes thee, or bitterness, know that he is in thee:
13 As also, when the desire of many things, and of the best meats, and of drunkenness; when the love of what belongs to others, pride, and much speaking, and ambition; and the like things, come upon thee.
14 When therefore these things arise in thine heart, know that the angel of iniquity is with thee. Seeing therefore thou knowest his works, depart from them all, and give no credit to him: because his works are evil, and become not the servants of God.
15 Here therefore thou hast the works of both these angels. Understand now and believe the angel of righteousness, because his instruction is good.
16 For let a man be never so happy; yet if the thoughts of the other angel arise in his heart, that man or woman must needs sin.
17 But let man or woman be never so wicked, if the works of the angel of righteousness come into their hearts, that man or woman must needs do some good.
18 Thou seest therefore how it is good to follow the angel of righteousness. If therefore thou shall follow him, and submit to his works, thou shalt live unto God. And as many as shall submit to his work shall live also unto God.
Reading insight like this makes one wonder how many people who’ve been diagnosed with bipolar, depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and other serious conditions have mysteriously gotten better. Oh, we don’t hear about such things in the news – but it happens. They simply get better. Somehow, privately, they discover how to listen to the right side, and to shrink from the wrong side. And they allow the light of God to come into them and shine on their conflicts and untangle their mess – mostly, I believe, by discovering forgiveness. Having truly given up their resentments and rage, no longer getting upset all the time, their “incurable” mental illnesses are healed.
We need to revisit the practice of drugging troubled souls. Psychiatry has totally bought into it and will consider me a Neanderthal or worse. Too bad. Because they’re taking the crown of God’s creation, the human mind, and acting like Dr. Frankenstein engaged in some mad, grandiose experiment, playing God, pulling people’s mood-strings chemically. There’s another way.
No doubt there are appropriate times and places to use these medications – rarely. But our increasing reliance on them is creating untold suffering of a kind and magnitude we can barely imagine. All because of a blindness that dominates our age – a blindness that obscures that which every child knows naturally:
We are born with a good side and we have a bad side. And we need to be careful which side we listen to. If we listen to the wrong side, terrible consequences follow.
Toward the end of my son’s Boy Scout troop meeting not too long ago, the scoutmaster stood up and used his customary “Scoutmaster Minute” to retell the famous story an old Cherokee chief supposedly told his grandson. The chief said:
“A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible battle – between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, pride, envy, lust, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, lies and cruelty.
“The other wolf stands for honesty, kindness, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, friendship, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too,” he added.
The grandson reflected on these words for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”