The Mind without the Spirit

(I have no idea why this won’t post in 12-pt. font.  Sorry ’bout that.  I don’t mean to yell at you; maybe God does.)

In Dr. Andrew Weil’s 7-page paper, “We Have Happy Pills, Anxiety Drugs, and Therapists Galore: So Why Are We More Stressed and Depressed than Ever?” he devotes two sentences to the spirit.*  Psyche is defined as mind/soul/spirit.  How can you talk about stress, depression and psychological health care without devoting at least a couple of pages to the spirit, its origin, development, and care?  How can you talk about the mind without talking about the spirit? 

I would propose to you that the two core reasons why we are stressed and depressed (please note that Dr. Weil did not include schizophrenic) are the loss of families and a God-based psychology.

In the first place, we now live in a culture where a family is counted as mom, dad and two kids.  Around 1940, my mother lived within walking distance of all thirteen of her cousins, not to mention uncles, aunts and grandparents.  Today’s kids have cousins they’ve never met.  The family is fundamental to good mental health, and Weil’s article spends a great deal of space talking about psychopharmacology and none talking about the breakdown in the family.

My doctor/friend came home from India and we were discussing Indian health care.  I asked what they do for therapists.  He replied, “They have families.”  A family is not four people clinging desperately to the infrastructure of society.  It is between fifteen and fifty people who are society.  They are embedded and interwoven, and within the mass of the extended family there always is someone who can help you solve the problems that are causing you stress and depression.

My extended family included about fifty people living within ten square miles.  Those people worked at the largest industry and in the schools and banks, and were deacons in the churches.  You didn’t have a problem that couldn’t be solved by going to someone in the family (cousin John sold used cars).  You were not alone in the world, fighting your battles.  You had family and they had solutions.

Then we came to a thing called “going away” to college—and not coming back.  College graduation was followed by boarding a jetliner for a job—or a medical school—a thousand miles away.  The infamous “studies show” that most physicians go into practice close to where they finish their residency, thus giving rise to Dr. Weil’s observation that one of the causes of depression is “social isolation resulting from affluence.”  Poor people don’t go to college, only rich people buy airplane tickets, and physicians don’t go home again. 

Dr. Weil also stated “Numerous studies show that people with few intimate social contacts are more likely to be depressed than those who enjoy a rich network of friends and family.”  Doctors without extended family connections are treating patients without extended family connections, and are not attending to the problem.  In the extended family it didn’t matter if your mother was mad as a hatter—she had sisters and aunts who knew it and covered for her in raising you.  Now, if mom is crazy then she gets locked up and her kids go into foster care—and we all know how badly that works out.

Human beings are designed to live in families, clans or tribes.  We are a group animal.  Practitioners of psychological health care are focusing on the individual and not devoting one instant to developing large family groups.  I once proposed to my church that we create “intentional families,” that is, set up a formal structure to identify what we are missing, and replace it.  Your mom is a thousand miles away?  Okay, Joanie’s kids are five hundred miles away, so now you and Joanie will care for each other as mother-and-child.  The church ignored my proposal.

Which brings us to the other major cause of stress and depression:  Godlessness.  Churches built a hundred years ago to meet the needs of their congregations now sit two-thirds empty.  The psyche is the spirit.  And we have completely negated the need for spiritual communion with the Lord.

The mental health of the individual and the community would be forever improved if, starting tomorrow, mental health care providers were to ask their patients the following questions:

·       Do you believe you have a spirit?

·       Do you believe your spirit continues after your body dies?

·       Do you believe there is a God?

·       What difference does that make in how you live your life?

The course of my therapy was forever altered the day my therapist asked me, “Do you think Jesus was winning or losing at the time of his death?”  It was a minor, off-topic question that he preceded with “I’m not supposed to ask this, but—.”  Therapists are taught that they are not to bring up the issues of spirituality.  That is insane!  The medical profession that has separated the treatment of the wrist from the treatment of the elbow has also separated the mind from the spirit.

I know about a hundred physicians.  Only four of them go to church.  Of those four, two are over eighty years old.  A powerful and godless medical profession is forcing their patients to become godless.  On inpatient psychiatry you can’t even get a bible or a visit from the chaplain.

How do I deal with fear?  I have none.  I have God.  If I’m walking right with the Lord then I have nothing to fear.  If I’m not walking right then I’ve got a lot to fear and no amount of drugs or therapy is going to change that.  How do I deal with shame?  I have none.  I follow the straight path laid out for me by God.  How do I deal with stress?  God and I share some prayer time in which it becomes clear to me what I should do, then I go do it.  There’s no stress in that.  The stress occurs when I go off-plan and start deciding things alone.  How do I deal with depression?  The cause of depression is the perception of powerlessness.  God is the ultimate power.  If I’m working on his plan, then he’ll provide all the necessary power to get the job done.

It took me fifty-five years to figure out that mental health is all about God and family.  How long do you figure it will take you to figure it out if all you do is listen to physicians and take pills?



About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to The Mind without the Spirit

  1. ALT says:

    BRAVO! I can’t tell you how much this article speaks to me, and it comes at such a timely moment… thank you ever so much for writing it.

    Also, I suspect that WordPress’ formatting is making your font big — if select all your text, and change the formatting to “Paragraph,” I bet all will be well.

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