Dear Mr. Robertson,
As a Christian who wrestles with bipolar disorder, I was concerned to hear your October 20th remarks linking a lack of faith in God with depression. Some people ignore them. Others agree with them. Still others spew venom toward you as a person. I won’t do any of these.
Instead, I would like to respectfully share my thoughts on your points. Antidepressants, as your colleague Lee said on the program, are the third most common prescription drug in America. Then you said:
It’s amazing. I mean, the American people—the message is just stay stoned . . .
Being stoned and being medicated are not the same thing.
. . . and don’t worry about what’s going on in the world.
Please don’t assume that I “don’t worry about what’s going on in the world” because I take medication for my mental illness. My medication doesn’t make me indifferent to the world. It makes me better able to think and better equipped to handle seeing the world around me.
When I wasn’t taking medication, the bipolar disorder made it difficult to focus on anything other than survival. Just get through this day or hour or minute without giving way to despair. AIDS? Political scandals? What did those matter when I was in so much pain? Or alternately, the world’s problems overwhelmed me and forced me deeper into the darkness.
Having the medication stabilizes me and increases my ability to engage with the world in a meaningful and productive way.
Pat: Prozac, and what are some of the other antidepressants? That’s the one I’m familiar with.
Terry: It’s interesting. We have so many blessings and then to have depression be such a significant aspect of our lives.
Pat: You lose God, you lose hope, and God gives hope and with hope, comes praise and joy and happiness, ‘cause you have a future. . . .
God has not guaranteed happiness in this life. Hope, yes. A future, yes. But hope does not make present pain go away; it doesn’t make grief and sadness disappear. Horrible things still happen, and they happen to people regardless of their faith.
If you don’t believe in the Lord, you have no future, and everything looks dark and gloomy . . .
Don’t assume that depression is always and only a spiritual thing. I’ve heard this in countless ways over the years, usually accompanied by well-intended advice, usually dispensed by overly-cheery people. Read the Bible. Pray. Count your blessings. Meditate on Scripture.
The clear implication: get your spiritual act together and your depression will disappear.
Humans are complex. We’re spiritual beings, yes, but also physical and chemical and mental and emotional beings. It’s all a tangled mess and only God knows where one aspect ends and the others begin. As a finite being, for me to pull out one thread and declare, “Ah, see here’s the definitive cause of my (or your) depression,” seems arrogant and presumptuous on my part. For depression to be treated, the whole person needs help, not just one part.
. . . so I’ve got to have something to kill the pain, so the way they go—use this term, “self medicating.” I’m not quite sure what all that entails, but it’s not a very pleasant thing.
First, people often take medication without consulting a doctor first; think taking aspirin for a headache or an OTC medication for a cold or downing a pot of coffee to pull an all-nighter.
Second, antidepressants (and other drugs like this) aren’t OTC medications, so technically I can’t self-medicate my pain with Prozac, Lithium, etc. I have to get a doctor to write the prescription for me. Yes, it can be at my request. Yes, I can abuse prescription medications; many people do. Yes, I can get medications that I don’t really need; people do this, too. But assuming that those taking medication for severe depression are “self medicating” is inaccurate.
Elsewhere on your show, you have said that sometimes people need to take antidepressants to stay even while they work things out. (I also noted that someone criticized you for writing something similar in Bring it on: Tough Questions, Candid Answers.) So I know that your October 20th remarks don’t fully portray your thoughts on this.
But there are people who will hear your words and feel despair at their “lack of faith” because they need antidepressants. It’s difficult enough to survive a day of depression without having a public figure make me feel like a second-class Christian. Since I doubt that was your intent, please be careful in how you talk to those in pain.
We need hope, not discouragement.