Welcome to Renewing Your Mind, a blog dedicated to the mental wellness of Christians.
I am a believer who trained as a medical doctor, someone who has experienced severe depression – to the point of being hospitalized seven times and receiving 99 shock treatments. Thankfully, I’ve also experienced recovery. Recovery that came about from the use of basic lifestyle strategies and the strengthening of my faith. I currently do not practice medicine, but specialize in mental wellness education and peer support.
This blog will be more than dry info on mental disorders and checklists of symptoms and suggested therapies. I want to dispel misinformation and myths about mental illness. I feel called to share powerful principles that can help people on a recovery journey.
To give examples of facts that are not widely known:
- The chemical imbalance theory has had mounting evidence against it for decades. It is officially considered “dead”
- People with mild to moderate depression (the majority of sufferers) respond better and have more favorable long term results with lifestyle therapy
- Long term use of psychotropic medication (antidepressants and antipsychotics) can lead to a huge reduction in life expectancy
- The majority of depression is not caused purely by genetics
Please note, I am not “anti- medication”. I am “pro” effective treatment. I am also “pro” a thoughtful use of pharmaceuticals, always weighing the benefits versus the potential risks.
Evidence shows that lifestyle approaches are more effective as the first approach for mild to moderate depression. So much so that in other parts of the world (such as the UK) guidelines were changed many years ago to make lifestyle change the first proposed “treatment”. In more severe cases of depression, or if lifestyle approaches are not possible or are not enough, certainly there times where medication is appropriate and necessary.
Warning: If you are on medication, DO NOT change your dose or stop it without consulting your prescribing physician. It can be dangerous to suddenly change or stop these types of medications.
I encourage people to take control and use holistic methods (those which are aligned with Biblical truths) to help them live their lives full of passion and energy. It is about a spirit-filled, intentional life founded on a healthy lifestyle. The way, I believe, God designed us to live. The way that if applied faithfully will help prevent, manage and – at times – even resolve illnesses.
I’ve always had an interest in health and helping people – definitely a good thing for someone who worked as a family doctor for eight years! But for the purpose of my current work, my own personal experience is even more important that my medical training. For years I was completely disabled; a hopeless shell of a person wearing the official label of severe, chronic, treatment-resistant depression. Even with trying every drug available and numerous drug “cocktails”, as well as seven courses of shock treatments, I remained severely depressed. I had to give up my medical practice, and at times couldn’t even take care of my own pre-school age son.
The fact is, I didn’t recover because of medications and treatments. (I did have some psychotherapy that was helpful. I’ll write at a later date on which forms of psychotherapy are proven effective and are consistent with a Christian perspective). I got better mainly because I got engaged, took responsibility, and started asking myself, “What can I do personally to get myself better?” I then was blessed to be guided and supported in my journey.
Mental wellness depends on a healthy lifestyle and the intentional application of basic principles.
You may be thinking, “That’s it? A healthy lifestyle resolved a chronic, severe depression? One that wasn’t helped by the most intense medical treatments?”
That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Currently I’ve been relapse-free for over a decade, and off antidepressants for nine years. I’m passionate, productive and most importantly have a personal relationship with Christ. I work part time facilitating peer support groups and giving presentations on depression education. Not bad for someone for whom returning to work was not even discussed any more. Who was given grave counselling that her risk of suicide was ten to fifteen per cent. Who was told that she’d need to be on medications the rest of her life, and that even if she had stable periods the likelihood of relapse was practically 100%.
What if my experience was just a fluke? Or a miracle from God in my own personal situation?
There are those who know me personally now, who’ve witnessed all or part of my journey to recovery, who say my healing was a miracle. However, not an instantaneous miracle: one day I was suicidal and the next I was cheerful and completely functional. It was a gradual progression that resulted from a steady provision of key relationships and knowledge. I was provided the right tools and supports by the right people at the right times. Then, when I applied the principles consistently, I slowly came out of my severe depression.
Please note that as I got better, I started doing research into the strategies I was using. I wanted to be certain I was doing everything possible to maintain my mental health and prevent the dreaded relapse (I call it “the big R”). I was also curious as to how common it was for a depression sufferer to be so unresponsive to the widely promoted conventional treatments.
The very first book I read – The Emperor’s New Drugs by Irving Kirsch – was suggested to me by a neuropsychologist. My new family doctor had referred me to this specialist after I requested some memory testing. I had discovered years earlier that I suffered from amnesia due to the shock treatments, however none of my previous doctors had done any testing. ***
It was that book that first suggested to me the possibility that I wasn’t an exceptional case in my failure to respond to antidepressants. The author showed, after reviewing the study data submitted to the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S., responsible for the approval and regulation of pharmaceuticals) on four major antidepressants, that the effectiveness of antidepressants in mild to moderate depression was not really much better than a sugar pill or placebo. Even in severe depression the difference between the medications and the placebo was not huge (although it was significant).
Thus began my quest for more information.
I had many questions. What has been show to work better than medications? Why isn’t that information being made more widely known? Why are the side effects of drugs not being discussed in greater detail? Is it possible to come off of medications, even if one has been on them a long time? And so on.
A key point I’d like to make is that I couldn’t have made this journey without Jesus. At my deepest point, I was desperate. After I realized my memory was getting progressively worse with the shock treatments, I knew I had to stop them. I also knew the medical options had been exhausted.
It was then that I turned to Jesus. I’m certainly not proud of how it came about; it was more of a “What have I got to lose” philosophy than anything else.
Although I had grown up in a Christian home, the experience was one of saying rote prayers and attending church services. In later years, even attending services became secondary to working on call or other “more important” activities. I hadn’t really known my saviour or been familiar with the Word. My many years of scientific training influenced me, raising doubts about God as creator and sustainer of the universe. As I became more and more ill, I withdrew and stopped even attending worship services.
Then at the time of my crisis God, in His grace, provided. Even though my attitude was not right, God honored His promise – as I drew nearer to Him, He drew nearer to me. Over time, as I started reading the Word, attending Bible studies and learning about Him, I was greatly strengthened and discovered that He is my rock. I have realized the glorious meaning of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
I’ve learned that there are times He provides solutions and the strength to apply them, there are times I’ve had to wait for solutions, and there are times when it seems there is no solution when I can still lean on Him, feel His presence, and know that He does have a plan.
Faith has been proven in research studies to positively affect physical and mental health.
I’m excited to support believers in their journey to mental wellness. Although I do work in secular circles as well, with you I can fully share about how fundamental faith is to a balanced, purposeful life. Note that although I may talk in principal about spiritual disciplines and faith, that will not be my focus. I would encourage everyone to spend time in the Word and find a Bible-believing church for fellowship and spiritual support.
Will the lifestyle principles I advocate about bring about cures for everyone?
No. People benefit to varying degrees by applying these concepts – although most can expect to feel much better. And the benefits will be physical as well mental. That’s because we’re talking about basic health principles that will have “side effects” such as weight loss and improved blood sugar control. It’s a common sense approach to depression. God’s design is awesome – given the basics the body (including the brain) will maintain itself.
Please realize, though, that even with following the best lifestyle, bad things can happen. God is sovereign, and we do not understand His ways. What we are told is to take responsibility for what we can change.
To be absolutely transparent, even though I’ve been encouraged for years to start a blog, I never had the nerve to do it. I still am somewhat (OK, make that moderately or significantly) anxious! I’m not a techie, I’m not blog-savvy, I’m not even on Facebook regularly. Change scares me, as my husband who sees me get nervous about trying out a new app on my phone will tell you. It took me months before I stopped carrying printed-out directions and trusted Google Maps.
But it’s time. Time for word to get out that there is an alternative to a medication-only approach. Time for people to know that organized psychiatry has – for decades – been presenting a less-than-complete view of depression and mental illness. Time for believers to know that the principles of healthy living are presented in the Bible and it’s crucial to follow them. Time for an integration of spiritual life and sound physical health practices.
In future posts, look for information on the causes of depression, the myth of chemical imbalance, specifics about how the pharmaceutical industry influenced psychiatry guidelines and treatments, details on which lifestyle strategies work and tips on how to implement them, which supplements may be helpful, the influence of social media, and more.
To God be the glory throughout this process, as He made it all possible!
**The lack of monitoring for severe side effects from treatments is also a concerning issue, but I won’t get into that here. I have what is called retrograde amnesia, which is a memory loss for events that occurred before my treatments. Mine is quite severe, so that I have no recollection of the majority of my life before the shock treatments.