Yesterday I wrote about praying for others and how it can improve and stave off depression in many cases. Sometimes I get accused of not being “scientific” enough for some tastes – understandable – so I thought I’d throw a little science into the equation today.
I found a study on the U.S. National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health website that I wanted to share with you. The purpose of the study was to find out how effective person-to-person prayer is in the treatment of depression. In other words, researchers wanted to find out if someone with depression would improve if they had someone directly praying for them.
I won’t go into all the details because you can read it for yourself, but the outcome was pretty amazing:
At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls (p < 0.01 in all cases). Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements (p < 0.01 in all cases) for a duration of at least 1 month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study. Cortisol levels did not differ significantly between intervention and control groups, or between pre- and post-prayer conditions.
Now, if you’re not the praying type or you think the idea of God is nothing but baloney, this study might not mean much to you. I know what you’re thinking because despite my faith in God, I tend to analyze things pretty deeply. Maybe the people in the prayer group improved because they knew they were being prayed for, and thus felt more cared for and just felt more positive knowing that someone was trying to intervene on their behalf. You could argue that humans just swap and absorb each other’s energy, positive and negative alike, and that’s why the depressed participants improved so dramatically. You could also attribute patients’ improvement to the meditation and repetitious aspects of prayer, though …
When I’m stressed out and overwhelmed by anxiety, I picture the red parlor piano my grandparents had in their basement in New York. It was always out of tune but my cousins and I couldn’t resist it. They actually knew how to play the piano, but no matter what they played it always sounded kind of creepy, even a little demonic because the wires were warped.
Then I’d come in with no piano skills whatsoever and just pound on the keys until my hands hurt or my grandmother yelled at me to shut up from the top of the stairs.
Sometimes I feel like that piano is sitting on my chest and the creepy music could be the soundtrack of my life. I feel it squeezing my rib cage, pushing on my heart, making it harder for it to beat. I don’t get a little cranky when I’m stressed, I get crushed.
Then, just when I’m about to accuse God of being an absentee father, I hear something or read something that jars me out of my own head and shoves me away from my pity party in the making and I realize someone else in the world has problems, too.
I can’t always stop that wave from hitting me and I can’t always immediately fix the circumstances that are turning me into an emotional pancake! But it’s really hard to baste in my own misery when I turn my time and attention to others. When I’m stuck on me, it’s time to start praying for someone else. It doesn’t have to be a long, flowery prayer. (Thank goodness because I’m not the long, flowery type.) “Lord, please help Bob” is plenty effective. God knows when we’re having a hard time. If God digs obedience when we’re doing great then I have a feeling He appreciates it even more when we’d rather eat a tub of Nutella, spoke a pack of cigarettes and curse the day we were born.
My dear friend and mentor, Shaunti Feldhahn, has always tried to instill this little wisdom nugget in me. It’s biblical, obviously, but …
Ah, social media. I kind of hate you, but I can’t quit you.
Facebook is great for many things. I love keeping in touch with my family in California on a daily basis. I like seeing pictures of my friends and their kids (and their cats, and their dogs), and even their food, sometimes. It’s a good place to have deep, meaningful discussions and heated debates. It’s where I keep up with Amy Grant and find out what’s going on with the production of “24.”
But have you ever been un-friended by a family member, or sent someone a friend request who rejected it? Have you ever had a friend block you because of your political views? Not very pretty. Those Candy Crush invites make smoke pour out of my ears, too.
According to a recent study, social media is changing us, and not entirely for the better. For one thing, social media makes us braver. That can be a good thing, if it means raising money for a cause, standing up for the oppressed, or educating the public about an issue (mental illness, for example.)
Not everyone can handle the anonymity, however. It allows people a forum to be as obnoxious as they want to be with few repercussions, and most of the time, nobody will ever even know their name. I’ve experienced it on Twitter, and even on this blog. People do and say things online that they’d never be caught dead saying or doing in real life.
Social media has created the perfect environment for bullies. Bullies don’t just dump your milk on you in the middle school lunchroom anymore; they can follow you virtually anywhere. Take, for example, the case of Melody Hensley, a feminist atheist who claims she has been so harassed on Twitter that she has developed PTSD. Whether you like Melody Hensley and what she stands for is not important. It’s not even important whether or not you believe that Twitter bullying actually gave her PTSD. What’s scary about her tale is that so many people feel justified in treating another person …
There’s a fine line between prioritizing personal space and becoming a hermit. I seem to toe the line all the time. I can say with great certainty that I think life would be easier if I could just hole up in my apartment and ignore the rest of the world.
Ah, but that’s just depression talking. ‘Tis the season. I don’t know where you live, but here in Pennsylvania, we haven’t seen green grass…shoot, no grass at all…since just after Christmas. So even if I felt emotionally up to going out, icy roads, bitter winds, and snow up to my chin would have kept me from wandering far.
Sometimes the weather makes life more stressful than it needs to be, so we curl up under a blanket and shut out the world for a while. Sometimes other people make life more stressful than it needs to be, too. I don’t know how you deal with it, but I I’m learning to react much the same way as I do to blizzards, and downpours, and the razor sharp wind chills: avoidance.
I know we usually think of avoidance as a bad thing, but not in this case. When the local government says to stay off the roads, you avoid the roads. (Unless you’re one of those people who will risk life and limb for a Snickers bar.)
Depression messes with my judgment – much more so than mania. If I had a million dollars, I could probably do a lot more damage in my manic states, but the opportunity just isn’t there. With depression, though, I take minor things far too seriously, hurtful words cut deeper, it’s easier to hold onto anger, and it seems impossible to hand over bitterness to God. I guess that’s what depression is – a hyper-inflation of all the bad stuff.
Well, I decided to take a little time off from what was eating at me. I decided to back away from the things that were making me sicker. Man, I felt some serious guilt about that, too, but here’s how I look at it: if I …
Blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock is hosting a “broad conversation about faith and mental illness” and last week I responded to his question about the way my own faith community has historically viewed mental illness, and how my own faith shapes my views of it. This week Warnock touches on the very sensitive subject of suicide.
Research suggests that religious faith protects against suicide. Why do you think that is in light of how your community responds to suicide? How can we tread the fine line of discouraging suicide while not making the grief of family members worse?
In my 20+ years as a believer, I have found it very difficult to nail down what Christians truly believe about salvation, let alone suicide. There are Christians who believe in “once saved always saved” theology – there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation, short of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and even fewer Christians seem to know what that means. There is another set of Christians who believe that if you renounce your faith and walk away from God, you absolutely can lose your faith. I can only assume that ending your life – which, if you believe in Christ, is no longer yours but His – would fit into the category of renouncing your faith and walking away from God to this particular group of Christians.
I don’t believe religious faith protects against suicide in every case. Certainly, for many it does. But mental illness isn’t really about faith, and that’s why this conversation is happening and why this blog exists in the first place. Wow, don’t you wish you could just believe yourself out of faulty brain? Lots of people seem to think you can – ha, if only!
My official stance on this issue is simple: I’d rather not find out. But God knows the difference between someone who just decides to abandon Truth and someone who is truly afflicted with mental illness and can’t choose.
Here in Christian America, we love telling people that God has a “wonderful purpose” for their lives.
Mothers Day is a touchy holiday for some people. I know it was for me.
I didn’t always get along with my mother and, actually, there was a time in my life when I wanted to disappear without a trace because I was sick of all the fighting and painful feelings. But that was many years ago and now I have a pretty good relationship with Mom. It’s not perfect, but no relationship is. I’m just happy that we are friends and as my mother ages, my instinct is to draw closer rather than run away.
When I told my parents that I’d been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I knew it wasn’t going to go well. I knew the conversation was going to tank. I thought about not telling them at all, but it seemed like such a big thing to skip over. I didn’t want one of them to read about it before I told them about it, either. As I expected, they didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t even believe that BP was a real disease. You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps and dealt with life, you didn’t give it a scientific-sounding name and take a pill for it – that was for weaklings! For years, the topic would never have come up had I not brought it up myself, and when I did, my mother did everything she could to steer the conversation in another direction.
I’ve never wanted to be a mental health evangelist, believe it or not. I believe the Lord tried very hard for many years to get me to write and speak about it, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I especially didn’t want to be the mental health evangelist in my family because it was so frustrating and disheartening. I just wanted my family to understand it and have my back, and I wasn’t sure that would ever happen. Ah, but relationships are about compromise, aren’t they? If you go into any relationship thinking you can change somebody, you will be sorely disappointed.
Sometimes, you have to trade understanding …
The Mental Health Grace Alliance published a blog post last week entitled 3 Frustrations of Mental Health and the Church; 3 Ways to Re:Think Church.
The post covers:
unfortunately, pastoral staff members grow frustrated when they don’t understand why their ministry methods are not working. In response, they unknowingly go into “religious default” mode, which places the blame on the individual, rather than the ministry. Like Job’s friends, it’s assumed that this hardship/ problem is due to the individual’s sin, weak faith, or demonic oppression. Then, the church often backs away. One pastor was dealing with a person diagnosed with a mood disorder. When the pastor didn’t see it go away, he said, “It’s because the sin issues of his youth are finally catching up with him … he just needs to will himself into better choices.”
This is the “biggie” that so many of us deal with. Sometimes it prevents us from seeking help because we already know what the reaction from others is going to be. In my case, these were things I believed about myself, but I didn’t realize other Christians would accuse me of them. How I was naive enough not to think that I will never understand. I have come to realize that I was never accused of deliberate sin or of being a bad person; when someone takes this angle with me, it implies that I have not surrendered my all to God. There is something I must be holding back from Him, and that is why I continue to struggle with emotional problems.
Spiritual Fix or Miracles … often times pastoral support will prescribe biblical counseling and intense discipleship to “overcome” or see “breakthrough”. Some will even insist on “deliverance” ministry or an intensive “inner-healing” ministry designed for immediate breakthrough. The idea is to have the individual do more constructive bible study, prayer, and intensive ministry for an immediate “breakthrough” to “overcome” … to “fix” everything. It forces the individual to “pray” or “believe” harder for a miracle breakthrough. We believe God can …
My friend, Amy Simpson, passed this along to me and today I want to pass it along to all of you.
From blogger and former psychiatrist Adrian Warnock:
The people who run Patheos have asked me to host a broad conversation about Mental Health including bloggers from across Patheos and beyond. You are invited to contribute by answering the question below any time this week. There are also two more questions which will follow.
Bloggers are asked to join in the discussion and answer the questions as they are posted. The first question is:
How has your religious community historically seen mental illness? – And how does your faith, today, shape the way you see mental illness?
Christians don’t have a good track record when it comes to mental illness. We used to assume that mental illness was nothing more than demon possession, and we banned people from church attendance and treated them like the devil itself. In all fairness, humanity, in general, does not have a great track record when it comes to mental illness. People fear what they don’t understand. But the fact that Christians’ reaction to people exhibiting confusing behavior was to treat them like yesterday’s trash is heart-wrenching and pathetic.
Understanding and acceptance has been a slow process for the Christian church. It still seems that while there have been major steps forward in most of society, the church continues to lag behind. Old habits die hard, old fears even harder. There are concepts in the Bible that have been twisted used to push mentally ill believers away (driving a herd of demon-filled pigs off of a cliff does not mean that’s how we should all respond to people with schizophrenia, and hopefully if you’re reading this you don’t believe that.)
My own church is a wonderful place that is on-board with modern-day medicine. They run a theophostic prayer ministry that I attended for some time, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they believed not only in the existence of mental illness, but in treatment. No pigs careening off a cliff for me. My church believes in …
It’s a little late for Wednesday’s Hope Round-Up, but this story gave me a lot of hope: Rick Warren wants what we all want – to urge educators, lawmakers, healthcare professionals, and church congregations to raise the awareness and lower the stigma of mental illness … and support the families that deal with mental illness on a daily basis.
As you may know, Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide on April 5 after a long battle with mental illness. Anytime someone uses their personal pain to ease the pain of others, its a reason to celebrate and have hope.
Keep reading – I’m giving someone a free copy of For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn at the end of this post.