I know there is much debate concerning the use of psychotropic or psychoactive drugs among Christians. In my pastoral experience I have counseled several people readily willing to view their problem through spiritual lenses- to seek God's perspective on their trial. They say they are open and willing to consider how sin might be figuring in to their discomfort (their own sin or sin committed against them) or other presenting issues that prompt them to speak with me. All too often, however, I have heard a brother or sister in Christ say something like this- "the bible is good and can certainly help, but if there's a chemical imbalance in the brain, "medicine" is needed to help bring balance".
On the surface, I agree. If there is indeed a chemical imbalance in the brain, perhaps there is a medicinal "cure" or response that can bring back balance? Makes good basic sense. So, my next question is this: how can a chemical imbalance be determined? What test is there so a doctor might know how to help bring balance to the "chemicals" in a person's brain? "chemical imbalance" is used to explain various kinds of mental "illnesses". Certainly there is an objective way to determine what kind of imbalance a person has. Right? Further, given the incredibly powerful nature of psychotropic drugs (they're essentially in the class of narcotic), it makes good sense we would want to know the severity of the chemical imbalance in order to assign proper dosage, etc. Right?
I have high blood pressure. This can be objectively verified by taking my blood pressure. Part of the problem, no doubt, is I'm overweight. Another part of the equation is a family history of high blood pressure. I take a low dosage of a medication to regulate my blood pressure. It works, but I have regular check ups to be sure I am taking the right dosage. They take my blood pressure and determine if a change needs to take place. I am on an ACE inhibitor, a relatively safe drug with few side effects, if any. It has no effect on my brain, even if I wanted to claim it does...ha ha.
Back to the psychotropic and psychoactive drug scenario: these drugs, unlike a blood pressure medication, are very powerful. They at very least effect the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. Obviously, you would think, one would want a reasonably certain idea of the severity of the chemical imbalance occurring before prescribing such a mind-altering (literally) "medication". Right?
This is where I continually become concerned and a bit suspicious.
I have searched and searched. I have asked doctor after doctor. I have read many articles. I have spoken to people far more expert than me on this subject. I have yet to find anyone who knows of an objective medical test that can diagnose a "chemical imbalance" in the brain. The closest thing to a test for "chemical imbalance" I could find is the Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scans) which can test for biological changes in the brain. Of course, the changes can only be observed and not really interpreted. I have also been told by a doctor that changes in levels of neurotransmitter metabolites are detectable in urine and cerebrospinal fluid , however, like the PET scan, interpreting the level changes is difficult at very best. Such tests don't tell "why" or "how" but rather "what".
Here's the truth, as I have come to learn it-and I am open to correction for sure- Psychiatric diagnoses are most commonly made based on criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals, primarily through reference to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)". This manual is basically a compilation of various "disorders" observed by members of the American Psychiatry Association. It lists disorders, based on clinical observation, and what behavioral symptoms identify a given disorder. No medical tests, just the opinions and observations of a select group of psychiatrists.
In reality, "psychiatric diagnoses" rely upon a physician's judgments about a patient's medical history, clinical evaluation of symptoms, and most concerning- from patient response to psychiatric drugs!
In other words- there is no real test to determine if there really is a "chemical imbalance" or "illness"!!!! Yet, statistics say that almost 20% of American adults are taking some kind of psychotropic drug! Further, 67% of those who go to their doctor complaining of depression will be offered an antidepressant or psychotropic drug! Scores of children and teens are given ridilin to treat "ADHD" (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). Ridilin is a psychotropic drug. It's long term effects on a developing adolescent brain are not yet known. No medical test to determine ADHD. No blood draw. Just the doctor's opinion based on what the parents or teachers say. This is incredible to me. A person is basically at the mercy of his/her doctor to play around with doses of a powerful, mind-altering drug, until you "feel" better. No objective medical test. None. Wow.
Earlier I said I was "concerned and a bit suspicious". I am concerned because of the subjective way so-called chemical imbalances are diagnosed (the doctor's clinical judgment alone). I am suspicious because I think someone or some people are getting rich from this exploding business. I think many psychiatrists mean well and really believe in what they are doing. Still, it seems to me, psychiatry is pseudo science at best. It doesn't seem that any one is ever cured of their chemical imbalance (how would we know?), so they are continually reliant upon the "doctor". Convenient. Further, the pharmaceutical companies are getting absolutely fat over this explosion of psychotropic drug sales. Convenient once again.
I don't doubt the reality of depression and other mental afflictions, etc. Furthermore, I am not telling anyone reading this to stop taking what has been prescribed- that could be very dangerous. I do think every believer should seriously analyze the issue and honestly assess what and why they are doing what they are doing. I question the way we look at "mental illness" as Christians and how such a thing is being treated in our day. I'm not saying there is no use for psychotropic drugs. I know of cases where a person, for whatever reason, became a danger to him or herself and in essence had to be tranquilized. The particular anti-depressant they were given acted as a sedative of sorts. Maybe it saved their life? I don't know. By voicing these thoughts I'm only suggesting that we rethink the reality of a so-called "chemical imbalance" and the popular practice of treating it with powerful psychotropic drugs.