Chemical vs Spiritual

Michael Craven | Center for Christ & Culture | Monday, January 14, 2008

Chemical vs Spiritual

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 including himself. 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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S. Michael Craven is the founder and President of the Center for Christ & Culture. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit:

Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.