- I do think there is sometimes a place for conventional medication as a short-term measure in treating mental illness, although I definitely see the long-term use of medication as problematic.
- I think that pills are generally over-prescribed and terribly misused.
- And I also think mental illness is often misdiagnosed and mistreated.
- Furthermore, many—if not most—medications have not been well-tested.
Therefore, I am very much in favor of trying other options first.
And the following explains why….
The entire push to remove this stigma and shame stems from a sincere desire to ease the distress of the sufferers and their families by making it acceptable and even laudable to get the necessary help.
To this end, we keep hearing the same mantra:
Mental illness is no different than physical illness!
To a large extent, this is true.
But the problem is that who actually treats mental illness like physical illness?
Hardly anyone does.
Yet if we did really treat them the same, things would be a lot better!
The procedure for mental illness is always the same:
- (1) A parent or teacher or other family member identifies a behavior that seems disturbing (or else just somewhat irritating to that parent or teacher) OR the sufferer is overwhelmed with emotional suffering (despair, anxiety, or mania) and seeks relief.
- (2) That person is taken to a doctor.
- (3) The doctor asks a bunch of question, which usually includes a questionnaire for the involved parties to fill in.
- (4) The appropriate medication is prescribed.
Yes, there are variations on this, but this is more or less how it goes.
The thing is, this is NOT how we treat physical illness!
If conventional doctors did treat physical illness that way, they would be considered very irresponsible.
So let's look at how physical illness is treated and compare it to the treatment of mental illness.
Proper Diagnosis Techniques for Physical Illness
A) seem to stick around for too long
B) seem very severe or unusual
...what's the first thing you do?
You get a diagnosis.
This could mean going to a conventional doctor, who likely checks your temperature, heart rate, lungs, throat and other body parts are checked and you are given a blood test to check for anomalies or deficiencies.
Or it could mean going to a holistic practitioner who arrives at a diagnosis after checking your tongue, your pulse, your iris, or something else. (And some practitioners also check what a conventional doctor checks, including blood tests.)
X-rays and brain scans may also be part of the deal.
In other words, they physically examine you for physical clues that could be causing your illness.
This is despite the fact that physical ailments are often caused by emotional problems, like headaches or stomachaches from stress.
Nonetheless, a responsible doctor checks for physical causes.
But what if conventional doctors didn't bother with, say, a stethoscope or blood tests?
Improper Diagnosis Techniques for Physical Illness
Or because your teacher thought it was probably bronchitis and marked the right boxes in the bronchitis questionnaire?
What if it's not bronchitis at all and the medication is totally superfluous (and messes up your good bacteria ratio)?
Or what if it's something worse than bronchitis, God forbid?
Is a baby given antibiotic ear drops with no ear examination just because his mother says, “He rubs his ear a lot and seems kvetchy”?
(After all, babies do that when they’re tired too.)
Some kind of test is also involved in confirming a pregnancy, even though that is not an illness and anyway becomes pretty obvious with time.
In general, blood tests are a prime source of information for doctors.
Yet when it comes to mental illness, patients are usually diagnosed via questionnaires.
This is even though science says that emotionally illnesses like depression can result from lack of vitamins, especially B-vitamins and Vitamin D.
Mental-health questionnaires are the main tool of diagnosis even for issues that are claimed to have a physical source, like ADHD ("It's a 'neurological glitch'!") or chronic depression ("It's a 'chemical imbalance'!").
These claims are bandied about even though there is no actual test for these, and no way to see this alleged “glitch” or “imbalance.”
(And in fact, these are only unproven theories, not proven facts.)
Furthermore, do doctors schedule brain scans to check a teenage patient's frontal lobes (or other signs of the alleged "teen brain") before they prescribe medication?
So practitioners rely solely on questionnaires to diagnose what's often considered a long-term or even lifelong illness.
They rely solely on questionnaires to prescribe medication with potentially severe – even lethal – side effects.
This is a serious mistake for two reasons:
Subjective Observations aren't Legitimate Diagnosis
- Parents and teachers might be emotionally lazy or fed-up with the child.
- Parents and teachers may suffer from some kind of mental issue themselves (like a personality disorder).
- The child’s behavior may simply be a result of the parent's or teacher’s bad middot.
The following true story illustrates this problem (all identifying aspects have been changed):
Mrs. Gold suffered from deep-seated passive-aggressive tendencies and a disdain for men.
Her sneering barbs had pushed her husband away into a stiff silence (although he became warm and alive when dealing with his children).
Sandwiched between quiet girls, her son was a boy born with a naturally bold and assertive personality (along with many other fine qualities). Unfortunately, his mother dealt with him by sniping at him, too.
Being in an environment in which both he and his beloved father were under constant snipe-attack was obviously stressful.
Even worse, the boy couldn’t really pinpoint the source of the tension because his mother always shot out her poison quietly and with a little smile, making it seem like she wasn’t really angry.
And since naturally aggressive people tend to act out when under stress (rather than “acting-in” by withdrawing, cutting, undereating or overeating, etc.), the boy’s acting-out got really out of control when he reached his teens.
So his mother carted him off to a psychiatrist who spun a reassuring explanation about “teen brain” (an inaccurate description of less ideal brain functioning...not caused by adolescence, but by poor decisions, immature thoughts and behaviors, and a poor diet).
Then the psychiatrist diagnosed ODD (Oppositional Defensive Disorder) and prescribed antipsychotic medication.
And that way, the mother was able to continue her hurtful behavior without suffering any more consequences from her son.
As an aside, children trapped in America’s foster care system suffer most from this misguided approach to mental illness.
Some foster parents and teachers just want the kids to be manageable.
Many foster kids are on 6 (!) different medications.
Sometimes, drugs are prescribed to treat a reaction to or withdrawal symptoms from another drug (partly because when switching from one home to another – a tragically frequent occurrence in foster care – the prescribed doses aren’t kept up).
One girl kept reporting flashbacks from different traumas she’d undergone, which the psychiatrist diagnosed as hallucinations (!) and then prescribed psychotropic medication.
Furthermore, children who a very energetic or very intense or very sensitive can be pathologized by parents or teachers who don’t feel like dealing with these very normal personality types.
Aspects of Mental Illness ARE Often Nutrition-Based!
- A lack of vitamins D or B can induce depression.
- Exhaustion or lethargy can also derive from deficient iron and other vitamins.
- High-strung or stressed-out behavior can result from a lack of calcium, a mineral which has a calming effect.
A friend of mine showed me a bottle of calcium she’d obtained the week before.
“Do you think they added sedatives to the tablets?” she asked me.
“No,” I said. “Definitely not. This is just calcium, no sedatives.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because I’ve been feeling so calm.”
She said it as if it was an unpleasant thing.
In fact, she stopped taking the calcium after that.
She’d lived life in such a mode of high stress since she was a child, due to a dysfunctional mother and a distant father and then later, a personality disordered husband, calmer feelings simply felt uncomfortable and she couldn’t tolerate them.
But what I found interesting was that she had no idea calcium produces a natural calming effect. So there was no placebo effect going on, nor subconscious suggestion.
She perceived the calming effect of calcium because it's very real.
Yet do doctors ever check calcium levels when dealing with a patient complaining of anxiety?
Other common psychiatric problems can be treated effectively with proper nutrition.
- Many ADHD children show marked improvement when gluten and artificial food colors are removed from their diet.
(I have personally seen this in both adults and children, and been told these observations by others.)
- Food allergies can also affect one’s emotional state.
Yet even though they are doctors, how often do psychiatrists ever order blood tests to check their patient’s vitamin levels?
This is even more shocking when you consider that everybody knows that a deficiency of B12 or vitamin D causes tiredness and depression and that iron deficiency causes tiredness and lethargy. So why don’t they at least check for deficiencies before prescribing Prozac?
It's very bizarre.
Just to illustrate using an opposite example:
I know that if I go to the doctor and tell her that I’m feeling very tired (especially if I am pregnant), she immediately orders tests to see if I have a vitamin deficiency.
Can you imagine if tired women were automatically prescribed, say, Adderall, without even a test of their hemoglobin levels or a pregnancy test?
Wouldn't everyone consider that horribly irresponsible medicine, especially if it was later discovered that the woman was in the early stages of pregnancy?
Even worse, antidepressants & many other medications actually deplete the body of vitamin B and other nutrients, making the sufferer's emotional state even worse, which leads the doctor to simply increase the dose and initiates a harmful cycle.
So should doctors just prescribe caffeine pills to people suffering from anemia, even if those pills would deplete the patient's iron levels even more?
Whether you think all mental illness needs medication or whether you are totally against conventional medical treatment for mental illness, I think any rational person can still see the need to test for basic vitamin deficiency before prescribing brain-altering medication.
(Personally, I find this lack of responsibility on the part of many psychiatrists absolutely appalling.)
Interestingly, there is the MTHFR gene mutation, which affects 40% of the population and is the culprit behind a whole lot of issues: autism, ADHD, depression, irritability, lethargy, miscarriage, diseases, and much more.
And this mutation even shows up on an official medical test!
Again, mental illness does NOT show up on laboratory tests. There is no chemical marker for any mental illness. Yet the MTHFR gene mutation IS scientifically diagnosable.
So why isn't that one of the first things a psychiatrist tests for?
MTHFR is also treatable through diet, supplementation, and lifestyle. And for the reasons explained above, conventional medications often make MTHFR worse.
(You can obtain a very helpful and clear pamphlet from Miriam Adahan by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some people, who see that they fit the list of symptoms, simply bypass the testing and just follow the treatment plan because it is extremely healthy and they genuinely feel and behave better doing so.
(But it's better to be tested, if possible.)
Playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" with Mental Illness
This is why, for example, you meet people who have been diagnosed with a bunch of different illnesses.
They’ll tell you, “The doctors weren’t sure whether it was bipolar disorder or OCD.”
Or, “One doctor told me it was schizophrenia, then another said that it was schizotypal personality disorder, but another said it was probably Asperger's.”
Sorry to repeat this point, but I really want to drive it home:
When prescribing mind-altering drugs with potentially serious side effects (including death), most psychiatrists rely solely on a questionnaire regarding the patient's emotional symptoms as subjectively observed by the patient or the patient’s parents or teachers.
Yet for diagnosable causes, like the MTHFR gene mutation or vitamin deficiency (which could easily be behind the mentally ill behavior and possess non-medical solutions), psychiatrists DON’T test for them!
Who's acting crazy and irrational now?
Official Treatment: "Just Take This Li'l Ol' Pill and...Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo!"
- Are diabetics told, “Take insulin, but otherwise, eat all the popsicles you want”?
- Are lung transplant candidates told, “Just come in for the surgery, but no need to stop smoking”?
- Are cancer patients told, “Just do chemotherapy, but no need to cut down on unsaturated fats or cola or alcohol or Twinkies. It’s okay if you want to eat tons of white pasta and strawberry pop-tarts while avoiding apples and broccoli”?
- In general, do doctors ever say, “Eating more vegetables and whole grains while eating less sugar and refined carbs and getting a good night's sleep is nice, but that won’t make a big difference to your overall health”?
No, of course not.
Even the most conventional anti-alternative doctors also clearly recognize the effects of stress, sleep deprivation, and poor nutrition on physical health.
Yet when it comes to mental health, why don’t psychiatrists tell schizophrenics that along with their daily meds, they should also stop staying up all night playing graphically violent video games?
(Not all of them do that, of course, but quite a few of America’s famous shootings were carried out by people on psychotropic medication—or in withdrawal from such medication—who regularly played violent video games. If someone already has issues with delusions, wouldn’t playing incredibly realistic and violent games be a problem?)
Why don’t psychiatrists at least tell their depressed patients to have at least one cup of leafy greens a day, get outside for a walk (or dance at home on rainy days) or prescribe a really good vitamin supplement—in addition to the medication?
In 2005, a 16-year-old boy growing up amid an unusually disruptive family life and living in poverty on the Ojibwa reservation in Minnesota shot to death his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend in their sleep. (He'd had a good relationship with both of them.) Then he went to his school and within 10 minutes, he shot to death an unarmed security guard, a teacher, 5 classmates—and himself. (Another 5 classmates were injured.) He committed this crime while taking Ritalin and just after having his dose of Prozac (an anti-depressant) increased.
Okay, that’s an extreme case. But the point is that anti-depressants don’t negate a person's indulgence in dark activities, dark thoughts, or a depressing life.
One thing I find particularly upsetting is how medications are often presented so simplistically to patients, parents, and prospective spouses in shidduchim, as if the person just takes a pill every day for the rest of his life and everything is la-dee-dah.
Yet these medications ALWAYS need re-evaluation at some point.
You cannot just take the same dose of Prozac or Ritalin or whatever every day for the next 30 years and never have a reaction or build up a tolerance that demands a change in dosage or even a change of medication.
This means that at some point, the person is going to start acting out. This is an absolute certainty.
How do I know? Well, how else can anyone tell if the medication or dose is no longer working as it should? Only by a change in that person's behavior.
And this merely refers to the most ideal situation, in that the medication is basically working as predicted, but just needs adjustment.
This does not even begin to cover the serious medical complications these medications sometimes induce, or even the fatally psychotic episodes sometimes brought on by these much-lauded meds.
Here's another example of when medication worked for a time, but then needed adjustment:
Leah had been on Ritalin for years when I noticed that she started displaying ADD behaviors, like impulsive interrupting, fluctuating high-pitched speech, getting distracted VERY easily, and things like that. She’s very open about her medication, so I asked her as tactfully as I could whether she’d taken her pill that day.
“Why?” she squealed. “Am I acting FUH-neeeee?” (funny)
“Um,” I said. “Well, you’re little bit more, uh, distracted and, uh, energetic than usual.”
“Reallyyyyy?” she chirped. “Well, I guess I'd better check this OUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuut…!”
And she hung up without another word.
What’s going on here?
A friend of mine told me how she eventually decided to get a Xanax prescription before her mother-in-law would visit.
Apparently, her husband—who was difficult even in the best of times—would gang up on his wife with his mother during these visits. The wife, Etti, wanted to remain calm and nonchalant, especially with their children around, and also because any angry response on her part would be greatly exaggerated and spread by her mother-in-law throughout the family with ensuing phone calls from Flying Monkeys—I mean, concerned and well-meaning relatives who wanted to smooth things over and make sure that Etti was sufficiently empathizing with her hard-working mother-in-law.
After an exhausting Shabbat visit, during which Etti had been calm and pleasant, Etti wanted to go to sleep after cleaning up and getting the kids ready for bed.
But after the house was neat and the kids in bed, Etti's mother-in-law suddenly wanted to start cooking anew for a full-stop melaveh malka. These cooking sessions also always demanded that Etti be her mother-in-law’s drudge. When Etti said that she just didn’t have the energy and was actually planning on going to bed, her mother-in-law got all huffy and Etti's husband started yelling at her.
Yet Etti went to her bedroom anyway, feeling so stressed-out and full of dread, she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep. So she took one Xanax. She knew that this was all from Hashem and that ideally, she should say Tehillim or talk to Hashem in some way, but her nerves were shot at this point and she just couldn’t do it. Yet she knew how important proper sleep was, especially in such stressful situations.
(On a side note, I had a friend who smoked pot every time her mother planned to visit. I’m not in favor of that, but having met her mother, I did understand my friend’s reasoning just as I understood Etti's reasoning.)
Hard-core enthusiasts of alternative medicine will still insist that if only Etti (or my pot-smoking friend) would inhale some Lavender oil or drink a strong brew of Chamomile tea or engage in deep breathing exercises, or give her mother-in-law and husband the benefit of the doubt, Etti would be just fine. But Etti felt like she just needed something that not only worked, but worked fast without any effort on her part.
(On Etti’s part, she wanted to daven to Hashem to help her relax and go to sleep, but she was too emotionally and physically exhausted to do that, either.)
This situation occurred once or twice a year, meaning that Etti only needed to take the sedative at its lowest dose for 2-4 days a year.
So what’s wrong with that? I don't see anything wrong with that.
Furthermore, I’ve given birth surgically and believe me, I did not inhale essential oils or say Tehillim for pain relief—I took Epidural before they cut my stomach open and removed that precious little baby!
So yes, there is a place for medication in our lives.
Let’s turn the above situations around to as if they were physical illnesses:
- What if a person was constantly plagued by headaches?
- What if the only way they could make it through the day was to pop Advil around the clock?
- Or what if they felt they couldn’t make it through the day without Epidural?
Wouldn’t that signify a deeper problem?
Wouldn’t a responsible doctor search for an underlying cause?
So why is it that when someone feels they can live a life free of depression or paranoid delusions or hallucinations or anxiety only if they take a pill, then everyone is just fine with that?
Why not search for an underlying issue rather than writing out a prescription?
Especially since scientific research shows that the whole theory of “chemical imbalance” as the prime and only cause of mental illness is nonsense?
Adding Merits for the Sick Person:Tefillah, Mitzvot, and Maasim Tovim
- Don’t we daven for them?
- Doesn’t that person daven for him- or herself?
- Don’t we organize bracha parties, Tehillim groups, and learning seders for them?
- Don’t we take on mitzvot in their merit to facilitate a speedy healing?
- And doesn’t the sick person take on extra mitzvoth themselves (according to their ability)?: extra vigilance regarding lashon hara, extra acts of chessed, 40 women taking challah dedicated to the merit of a person in need, lighting Shabbat candles earlier
And finally, what is the big, huge mitzvah that Judaism insists a sick (or any suffering person) perform?
- Cheshbon hanefesh. L’pashpesh b’maasav.
A thorough self-accounting. Scrutinizing one’s behaviors and deeds.
When is a mentally ill person ever encouraged to do this?
And don’t think it’s because they can’t.
Oh, sure, maybe there are short windows when a mentally ill person is truly mentally incapable of cheshbon hanefesh.
But most are more capable than others give them credit for.
Furthermore, someone on medication should theoretically be able to carry out a cheshbon hanefesh. I mean, they're supposed to be mentally competent now, right?
In fact, it’s been very surprising to me to realize that seemingly frum people do not use their medicated state for spiritual growth.
(Maybe some do, but I haven't yet heard of or read about them.)
For example, many people on Ritalin do not seem to be able to daven with more kavanah, nor do they seem to make an effort to. People on Prozac or Lithium or Xanax do not take that opportunity for cheshbon hanefesh or to deal with past trauma, although you’d think that would be an ideal opportunity because you can finally take a good, honest look at yourself and your life without getting depressed or anxious! (Theoretically, anyway.)
Cheerfully and solidly under the influence of the frum community’s simplistic view of mental illness as something that just needs a pill and bibbity-bobbity-boo—the rag-wearing Cinderella becomes a delectable princess fit to wed the prince!—the rebbetzin happily gave my friend the number of a psychiatrist, warmly reassuring my friend she had nothing to be ashamed of, and that depression was just like a physical illness and should be treated as such. (Which is true, but as this post has shown, that’s not how we treat physical illness either.)
That was seven years ago. And my friend is still taking the medication.
She always enthused about how great she felt on anti-depressants, but I sure didn’t feel great about it.
In fact, I haven’t spoken with her in a very long time because she could not stop relating to me as if I was a crazy and evil person. Seriously. And it got increasingly worse. Eventually, even the shortest conversation started to include some kind of nasty passive-aggressive darts.
Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not perfect, but I honestly don’t see myself as crazy or evil, either. And even if I was crazy or evil, treating me that way and constantly attacking me would not make me sane or good. That’s just not the way things work.
Initially, I had no idea that this was actually an extremely common side effect of Prozac. (It’s called “emotional blunting.” Personally, I would love it if people would be really open about if they’re taking Prozac because then I would know to avoid them before getting verbally assaulted. Or worse. Maybe Prozac can come with a mouth-zipper inserted in the package that can be remotely controlled by potential victims.)
Gently correcting her (remember, she has a tendency toward depression, right? So I want to be gentle and not make her suicidal) didn’t work. Ever. She just seemed amused and hinted that any hurt feelings on my part were a sign that I needed medication, too. (This attitude is similar to Mrs. Gold's in the first example.)
How convenient! If you medicate your victims, you can indulge in a verbally abusive free-for-all with no repercussions!
One of the last straws actually had nothing to do with me, but with her maternal attitude. She accidentally revealed that she could not find any positive character traits in any of her children except her youngest—and in that child, she only found one positive attribute.
But regarding the others, she found nothing good to say about their personalities.
“If I say that one daughter is really good in math and that the other has got beautiful auburn hair or that my son has the most gorgeous shade of green eyes, does that count?” she asked. “Or does it have to be a character attribute?”
“Um, look,” I said. “If you’re struggling, physical attributes are a good place to start, but you really need…I mean…your children do have great character attributes, so…I think you’ll be happier and see improvements in their behavior if you could just take a few minutes to sit down and think of some of the positive character traits you see in them. Can you maybe remember positive stuff you saw in them when they were, like, 2-years-old?”
“Well,” she said. “Right now, one of my daughters is pretty good with Down's Syndrome people.”
“Great!” I said.
“But that’s just because she’s so immature herself, she can relate to them on their level.”
“It doesn’t matter why,” I said. “Only tzaddikim have totally pure motivations for their good qualities. And anyway, everything has its positive and negative side. I’m sure that when your daughter matures, she’ll still be good with Down's Syndrome people.”
At this point, she suddenly said good-bye and hung up.
But why couldn't she tolerate the discussion any longer? Doesn’t Prozac alleviate anxiety and emotional discomfort? Why, she should have been able to handle this discomfiting conversation with chemically induced aplomb!
Needless to say, a parent can be having a very hard time with a child and view the child very negatively. However, the vast majority of parents I know still see positive potential in even their most difficult child. Innate traits can be seen even in babies, so even if the child isn’t acting out their best self, the normal parents still know it’s there.
Again, even when dealing with a very difficult child, normal parents are still aware of that child's core positive attributes (even if those attributes are currently overshadowed by the child's difficult behavior).
Obviously, this mother is still very depressed and despairing, but she just doesn’t feel it.
She lacks the awareness that actually experiencing her emotions would give her.
And do you have any idea what it’s like to confide an incident of public humiliation to a Prozac-zonked friend, only to have her gleefully crow out:
“WELL, IT’S YOOOOOOOUR FAULT! It is! It’s all your fault!”
It happened to me and made me cringe. (Remember, I was already feeling humiliated.)
And it wasn’t even my fault, darn it. Both her behavior and her reasoning were wrong.
Ah, well. At least I got some atonement and spiritual cleansing from that.
“The medication works by masking their feelings.
The problem is that when you can’t feel your own feelings, you can’t feel anyone else’s either.”
And there lies the rub, as Hamlet might say.
For example, I knew a teacher who was very good in many ways, but would occasionally say the most tactless or insulting things completely unprovoked, which drove at least one very sweet and nice student out of her class and even out of the school.
Later, I discovered that this teacher was likely taking medication at that time to deal with a temporarily difficult situation at home.
Another woman I knew on medication for manic-depression (AKA bipolar disorder) used to go into defensive behavior at the drop of a hat (although she also immediately recovered each time just as fast) and often made comments like, “These types of things always happen to me!” if, for example, a waiter accidentally got dessert on her shaitel or whatever. (This is exactly the kind of negative self-talk depressed people engage in, so how is the medication helping her with her depression?) Also, it's a weird thing to say. In my experience, it's rare for a waiter to spill food on a customer. In fact, I don't know that I've ever seen that happen. So how is it that this type of thing always happens to her?
She was also married to a very good and patient man, yet she irrationally saw him as short-tempered. I knew them for years and never once saw him angry.
In fact, the closest thing I ever saw to anger was one time when their teenage son was acting up and the father spoke to him with a stern face and in a firm tone of voice, yet there was so much love shining from the father’s eyes at the same time. However, the medicated mother immediately led the rest of the children in jeering at their father for “losing his temper.” This set the teenage boy off again and he wrested his arm out of his father’s grip and ran away.
Obviously, the mother's attitude shows that manic-depression is not really the problem and that medication is not the answer. Remember, she behaved this way on medication.
In her book, Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher, Gwen Olsen recalls her experience both as a pharmaceutical rep and also as a temporary user of antidepressants, which basically took the filter off her mouth and racked up a lot of humiliating realizations once she was off meds.
The point is that if you genuinely believe that mental illness is just like physical illness, then you will warmly encourage the sufferer toward a cheshbon hanefesh (compassionate and thorough self-introspection) and middot work...just like any ill person is expected to do.
In all the above examples, it is clear that the people diagnosed with mental illness actually suffer from problematic beliefs, attitudes, and situations, regardless of the medication.
For example, the woman above diagnosed with manic-depression grew up in a family where not only her parents were alcoholics, but also several aunts and uncles were, too. Based on her traumatic past, it makes sense that any form of anger (no matter how benign or appropriate) could trigger feelings of fear or disgust in her.
But she certainly should not give in to such triggers. She needs to train herself to see situations as they actually are, and not as she is triggered to see them. She especially needs to see how good and forbearing her husband is rather than "hallucinating" him as some sort of bad-tempered clown.
While “experts” love to opine that mental illnesses are genetic, the truth is that a mentally ill person who does not try to heal himself or herself can easily raise mentally ill children.
How do you think my former friend’s children will turn out being raised by a mother who sees absolutely no good in them? I daven for them (and her) to be well despite their upbringing, but she really needs to do the work herself.
To really raise her children right, the mother needs to get off the Prozac and into emuna and Azamra (finding diamonds in even the blackest chunk of coal).
Judaism holds that illnesses are messages from Hashem (or atonements) and they should be treated as such.
Where Does Illness Come from and What is the Solution?
This is yet another value lifted from the non-Jewish world and then shechted, salted, and soaked to make it look kosher.
Yes, there is the concept of mimerchak tavi lachma ["she brings her bread from afar" - from the famous "Woman of Valor" in Proverbs], but you actually have to go to the right place and actually bring back the real thing and not Wonder Bread.
Beneficial borrowing from the non-Jewish world takes a certain amount of research and scrutiny, not just blind acceptance of the latest fad.
For example, the creator of Reality Therapy, Dr. William Glasser, showed enormous success working with Vietnam veterans at a mental hospital. These guys were even hallucinating. Dr. Glasser believed that harmful behaviors (whether criminal or insane) resulted from unconscious choices on the part of the sufferer.
He believed that therapy must focus on the person’s behavior and their choices, and that behaving in a moral and decent manner would reap natural positive consequence that would then positively influence a person’s thinking. So he came in to the veterans’ program and basically said that if they were genuinely crazy, then even meds couldn’t really help and they certainly didn’t need any of the privileges they currently enjoyed, like cigarettes, outings, TV, and so on.
Thus, their privileges were taken away. To earn them back, the patients needed to display sane behavior.
And they did.
Dr. Glasser writes of his psychotic patients (and delinquent girls whom he also treated) with obvious warmth and compassion and a strong belief that all these people had great potential and the ability to fulfill that potential.
In a nutshell Reality Therapy asks the following:
- What are your goals?
- What can you do to achieve your goals?
- What are you doing to achieve your goals?
Reality Therapy has proven highly effective in curing mental illness and is not new (it was developed in 1965), yet who has heard of it?
It was so effective, so why is it so unknown?
Why are less effective therapies so popular?
Reality Therapy focuses on one’s relationship with others as the goal, but the Torah view would use Reality Therapy techniques toward one’s relationship with Hashem.
That would be the “kosher” version of it.
There is also logotherapy, along with other therapies with a proven success rate, like EMDR (which I don’t know much about, but I’ve read about practitioners who use it with surprising success), acupuncture, acupressure, etc.
Instead, many well-meaning frummies try to kasher the pharmaceutically driven approach to mental illness—an approach that has shaky scientific foundation, no cure rate, and even causes problems, especially over the long term.
The solution is to actually treat mental illness exactly as you should physical illness.
Not to just chirp that you are, but to actually do it:
- Correct diagnosis using actual diagnostic tools
- PROVEN treatment for the particular malady
- Compassionate and intense self-introspection, self-accounting, searching for God's messages in it all (this will take more than one day)
There is a lot more to say about it all, but this post is already way too long.
I can’t emphasize enough the need to work out one’s issues.
Study after study has shown that many people with mental illness (particularly depression, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders) have experienced or are experiencing some kind of trauma in their lives. Even schizophrenia shows links to trauma.
Harmful behaviors common today (like engaging in violent video games and movies, vulgar movies and images, consuming drugs or alcohol, binging on empty foods, trolling—either as the victim or perpetrator—and the general indulgence in meaningless activities) make any tendency toward mental illness worse.
While therapies based on sound data, holistic alternatives, and healthy eating can all alleviate or even cure mental illness, the most important thing to do is to develop a close and loving relationship with Hashem.
The toxic shame and profound grief and powerful fear that drive a lot of mental illness ultimately need to be dealt with via God.
- Confessions of an Rx Drug Pusher by Gwen Olsen—In general, this book is an eye-opening behind-the-scenes look at the pharmaceutical industry, with excellent documentation. It’s also an extremely disturbing read, as Gwen herself was involved in harming so many people through her job (the book is meant as an atonement for all that), including the death of a woman whose own doctor-son prescribed her the fatal medication, which he did solely because Gwen pressured him to do so. (Gwen didn’t pressure him about his mother specifically, but merely to prescribe this particular drug to his “most difficult patient.” And he did.) She also documents several suicide-murders (stabbings, shootings, or burning down a home) committed by people on anti-depressants.
- Psychiatric Drugs and Violence: What are psychiatric drugs? (Includes a list of school shootings committed by a student or teacher taking or in withdrawal from psychiatric medications, particularly antidepressants.)
- Why The Lunatics Are Truly Now In Charge Of The Asylum
- Q+A On The Causes And Cures Of Depression
- If The Psych Drugs Work, Then What's The Problem?
- How Psychiatry Rendered Drug Abuse 'Socially Acceptable'
- Study Finds Improved Functioning for ‘Schizophrenia’ Without Antipsychotics
- Researcher Acknowledges His Mistakes in Understanding Schizophrenia
- Any book by Rivka Levy
- Garden of Emuna
- Garden of Healing
- Getting Past Mental Illness
- "What Practical Things Can I Do To Overcome Bipolar II?"
- New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy
- Improve Your Life: 10 Things You Should Do Every Day
- Happy Thoughts: Here are the things proven to make you happier
- The Causes and Treatments of Soul-Sickness as explained by the Kli Yakar in Parshat Beshalach (with some advice from the Pele Yoetz about treating addiction)
- 10 Exercises for Your Prefrontal Cortex (This last link is particularly helpful in understanding where the so-called "typical adolescent behavior" and "teen brain" comes from. If you look at this list, you'll notice that today's media-imposed teen culture actively discourages at least 7 out of the 10 exercises on the list and even encourages their opposite, which weakens the prefrontal cortex. So today's stereotypical adolescent behavior causes "teen brain" and is not caused by "teen brain.")