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Chemical vs Spiritual

January 14, 2008
S. Michael Craven
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As I shared last month, a joint study conducted by the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School reveals that the U.S. has the highest rate of depression among a survey group of 14 countries.

However, this may have more to do with how we define and diagnose “depression.” As reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer last month, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the official diagnostic manual used by mental-health professionals, defines depression as “two continuous weeks of such symptoms as despondency, diminished pleasure in life, and difficulties in sleeping and eating.” As the authors, Horwitz and Wakefield point out; “In the manual, it doesn’t matter why a person is despondent. If you’ve lost your job, or your romantic partner dumped you, or you’ve been given a diagnosis of cancer, you’re still deemed ‘clinically depressed’ if you’re sad for two weeks or more.”

This might account for the recent 300 percent increase in Americans diagnosed with depression. Real depression can be a serious mental illness, however, being “sad” in the wake of real disappointment or loss is a normal part of life. Nonetheless, the increasing response to these events is restoration through chemistry. According to a November 2005 report in Fortune Magazine:

Nearly 150 million U.S. prescriptions were dispensed in 2004 for SSRIs and similar antidepressants called SNRIs, [psychotropic drugs used in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders] 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.… 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.

David Kupelian of, whom I recently interviewed on Point of View pointed out, “When we've gotten to the point of poisoning fish, you know we're talking about a lot of drugs.”

However, the “poisoning of fish” may not be the worst side-effect of over-diagnosis of depression and prescription of these powerful psychotropic drugs. We’ve all seen the plethora of pharmaceutical ads in which a benign voice recites a laundry list of bizarre side effects. However, two that you will rarely hear are “homicidal” and “suicidal ideation,” meaning these drugs may produce thoughts of murder and suicide!

The fact is, these potential side effects are common to this class of anti-depressant drugs and a survey of the nation’s most notorious mass murders and school shootings reveals an all too frequent connection.

Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children had been taking the antidepressant Effexor. Four years after this horrible tragedy, Effexor manufacturer Wyeth Pharmaceuticals quietly added “homicidal ideation” to the drug’s list of “rare adverse events.”

Columbine mass-killer Eric Harris was taking Luvox. According to David Kupelian’s article Why So Many Americans Today are ‘Mentally Ill,’ “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.”

Kupelian continues, “Most recently, authorities investigating Cho Seung-Hui, who murdered 32 at Virginia Tech last year, 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.”

Kip Kinkel, 15, murdered his parents in 1998 and the next day went to his school, Thurston High in Springfield, Oregon, and opened fire on his classmates, killing two and wounding 22 others. He had been prescribed both Prozac and Ritalin. 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. Suffice it to say that while the actual motivation for these crimes is likely more complex than the mere presence of psychotropic drugs, there is nonetheless an alarming frequency of their relationship to such events.

This is the tragic consequence of remedies formed from a false worldview. If man is merely a biological organism, as the materialistic humanist worldview believes, and not the unity of body and soul as the Bible teaches then the logical response to disappointment, heartbreak and the like is chemical manipulation. If however, mankind is a unique being combining spirit and body then perhaps the solutions require a more holistic response that considers both body and soul.  

The continuing loss of Christian influence in shaping the consensus worldview will only produce more misguided responses to real human problems that are likely to produce similarly devastating results. Christians must undertake the hard work of knowing and offering the biblical interpretation of reality that can accurately shape the culture’s understanding of the human condition and thus provide real solutions.

© 2008 by S. Michael Craven

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Response from : William  

January 14, 2008 8:29 AM

Usually, I appreciate you insightful comments and valuable analysis of causes and effects. But ... for this article there is a real problem with post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Response from : Rosie  

January 14, 2008 8:29 AM

The suicidal and homicidal ideation caused by these drugs has become a national health tragedy. For a list, with full media article available, of over 2,000 cases involving antidepressants go to

Response from : diana  

January 14, 2008 9:48 AM

as an r.n., i agree that many drugs are too quickly prescribed, and that mnay cases of "depression" are normal reactions to life situations, however, depression can be longlasting, and severe, as a Christian , i struggled with depression for over a year, thinking it was a spiritual issue, as many Christians believe, i must tell you that deciding to take medication was the hardest and one of the best decisions i have made, but many Christians seem to judge others for this decision, which only adds to the pain they are already in.

Response from : Mike  

January 14, 2008 12:31 PM

I’m both a mental health clinician and a counselor in private practice. I‘m also a Christian with a strong background in emergency psychiatry. Often the church puts its head in the sand with issues such as chemical dependency and mental illness. In fact, only recently larger churches developed Celebrate Recovery programs, and Christian counseling has become increasingly popular and available.
This article represents perfectly the ignorance present today in Christian communities concerning mental illness and the plethora of treatment strategies, especially for depression. To say antidepressants cause “homicidal ideations” and “suicide” is horribly and dangerously simplistic. Mental illness causes homicidal and suicidal ideations, not antidepressants. Every tragedy listed in this article involved an acutely psychotic or delusional individual, not someone with a case of the “blues” started on Prozac.” Not mentioned was the fact that the individuals cited were also prescribed antipsychotic medication, medication that they were not consistently taking.
Studies show that most people battling depression have equally therapeutic responses to counseling and antidepressants. Medications have their place but only a trained, licensed professional can make that determination. If you’re a Christian and depressed, see a licensed counselor. A counselor is not going to start antidepressants like a PCP or family doctor might. He or she will help clarify what may be causing the depression and target those issues before suggesting medications. Medications can work but are usually not the first line of treatment. My father has hypertension and diabetes. He started addressing his lifestyle and diet before taking medications. He now needs medication in addition to the dietary restraints. The same implications are in place regarding mental illness and depression.
Christians need to be better informed about “worldly” areas such as mental illness and substance abuse and not naively ignore them.

Response from : Michael Craven  

January 14, 2008 12:59 PM

Dear Mike,

I appreciate your comments, however to be clear; I did not say that anti-depressants cause homicidal and suicidal ideations, the manufacturers themselves do. Second, I do point out that “real depression can be a serious mental illness.” My article addresses the increase in the diagnosis and treatment of “depression,” which according to the DSM now extends to include “sadness” for a period of two weeks. Finally, there is a plethora of evidence implicating SSRIs and SSNIs in producing mania and other serious adverse effects. See:

I don’t think I am being naïve or burying my head in the sand but I also do not uncritically accept the claims of the APA and pharmaceutical companies.

Response from : Heather  

January 14, 2008 4:49 PM

I could not agree more with this commentary. My father died as a result of over prescribed phych medications, after 20 years of doctors trying to "get it right". Our government is very happy to admit people into mental hospitals, get them on a good "numbing" dose of medication, and send them right back into the world. It becomes a vicious cycle of rejection for these precious souls. I believe God and that the blood of Jesus overcomes symptoms of soul sickness such as anxiety, depression, hopelessness, fear and anger. God bless Michael Cravens ministry of educating the body of Christ about these horrific truths.

Response from : Angela  

January 14, 2008 5:55 PM


I am a pharmacist and can attest to the growing number of individuals being prescribed antidepressant medication. I am astonished to see the doses and how many individuals are on more than 1 antidepressant at a time. That being said, I do think we need to clarify a couple of points you made regarding antidepressants causing “sucidal ideation” & “homicidal” thoughts.

Drug manufacturers added the warnings to their drug monographs in response to growing evidence that many of these medications appeared to be causing an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents (18-24 years of age). This same evidence has not been seen in adults (older than 24 years of age) and the FDA also could not rule out the actual “depression” as being the cause of the increased risk in these individuals. The other issue in children is that many of these agents are being prescribed to children without FDA approval for use in children. Please see

That being said, I don’t dispute the fact that antidepressants appear to be a “quick fix” for a number of individuals who don’t wish to experience normal emotions that God created in us. I do believe there are a number of valid uses of these medications and they truly are useful for many individuals with documented, unresolving depression, physical pain or neuropathies, and other related disorders.

Response from : Darin  

January 14, 2008 8:23 PM

While it may be the case that many, many people are being prescribed with a plethora of psychotropic medications to help with what you see as clinically trivial, I'm wondering if it would be wiser to be cautious in making strong claims based upon the information you have presented. After all, isn't it possible that these circumstances can become the triggers for latent depression in an individual?

And as you have said, we are a "body-soul unity". Given the recent research on adult neuro-plasticity by the likes of someone like Dr. Jeffery Schwartz (at UCLA), not only can the brain be re-wired beneficially, but also adversely.

Psychotropic medications, at best, are a band-aid that ought to be viewed as a necessary, but temporary solution for an ailing patient. Long term use leading to premature stroke, heart and kidney failure and a host of non-lethal side-effects that stultify the medical effectiveness of this sort of treatment, should be a sober reminder that there is not a quick and easy fix for life's problems.

Unfortunately, the culture we live in fosters isolation, crass individualism, skepticism and moral ambiguity. And the most visible "spiritual" leaders on television have mostly helped to pander to this very narcissism of American society; many of them on "Christian" television!!!

The condition of Europe in Friedrich Nietzche's time has now become our sickness too. Perhaps we need to take a sober look at how and why those ideas of the past are looming like a great shadow in the present; and ask whether "friendship" with the world's ideas has cost us too high a price and left us with an unpayable debt.

Response from : Dalpay  

January 15, 2008 2:01 PM

The National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] is a resource for those suffering any number of serious conditions. They are a nation wide voluntary org. Family and community are a focus of the work they do.

Response from : Thomas Peck  

January 16, 2008 1:24 PM

Another main reason for the explosion in depression is the misdiagnosis by medical (not psychiatric) doctors. While incidental, I know of some instances where this diagnosis was given (and subsequent medication) based on the fact the person said they were sad "sometimes" during a day or felt "depressed" sometimes.
Medical doctors tend to not check the definitions of psychiatric disorders but only the descriptions from the patients.
For example, my adult son, reported that he was "sad" a lot during the day and having trouble sleeping. The doctor ignored the fact he was in a Rescue Mission program, didn't have a job, and his future looked bleak. Also, he has sleep apnea.
Instead, the doctor "suspected" bipolar disorder and prescribed a medication to help him sleep.
When my son told me the medicine it seemed an odd thing to prescribe for sleep (I am a social worker at a Mental Health agency).
When I checked the Physician Desk Reference, the medication was black boxed for bipolar - warning that the medication could cause suicidal thoughts in people with bipolar disorder.
When I told the doctor, he waved it off saying it would help my son sleep. My son did not take it and did not go back to that physician.
Thanks for reminding people that the mental health area is one that we Christians should approach with caution and discernment.

Response from : Barbara  

January 18, 2008 9:31 AM

Thank you for this article. Someone very dear to me committed suicide at the age of 83; a WWII vet, a cancer survivor and someone who, as far as I know, had never been depressed or suicidal in his life. He had just been put on Paxil and I will always believe that this was what was responsible for his death. Americans need to wise up, start eating right and taking care of themselves instead of relying on the AMA and Big Pharma to save them.

Response from : Bill Craven  

January 18, 2008 12:44 PM

Hey Mike, you can imagine my surprise when I came across your site and saw MCraven on the tab since one of my son's name is Matt! Thank-you for your informative article. I just signed up for your weekly podcast! keep it up!
Bill Craven

Response from : Kim D. May  

January 21, 2008 5:17 PM

As a pastor for 31 years, I have seen the exact opposite to be true - people tend not to take the medications they need to get well! Your article could lend to this very problem. Also, who is to say the meds caused homocidal actions? The sickness itself (with or without meds) could very well be the only reason they acted out hostile thoughts and impulses. My experience and research shows that it's not chemical vs. spiritual; we often need both in cases of mental illness.


Kim May

Response from : Michael Craven  

January 21, 2008 6:02 PM

Dear Kim,

With all due respect, my article addresses the superficial diagnosis of depression to now include “sadness” regardless of the cause. This has nothing to do with those who are suffering from serious mental illness NOT taking their medication. Second, the pharmaceutical companies themselves say that these drugs may cause “homicidal ideation” and “mania” not me. Third, and finally I conclude my article by saying that “If however, mankind is a unique being combining spirit and body then perhaps the solutions require a more holistic response that considers both body and soul.” I welcome thoughtful and constructive criticism of my positions however, I ask that said criticism be accurate and address what I did say and not what I didn’t. Thank you.

Response from : Michael Johnson  

January 22, 2008 2:20 PM

very eye opening. Doctors are always trying to push me to take such drugs. Glad I haven't.


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