Are Conservatives Finally Waking Up to the Mental Health Crisis in America?

America’s youth are crumbling from a long running epidemic of mental illness, says Mona Charen over at National Review Online.   I’ve been shouting this message from the rooftops for close to two years now—and most recently, from the rooftops of Duke Medical School. It is encouraging to see this frightening tragedy finally get the attention it deserves from the conservative media. Hopefully Charen’s  well researched article will spark more discussion among conservatives. Here is an excerpt:

Research throughout the last several decades has shown a consistent pattern of rising anxiety, depression, suicide, and suicide attempts among American adolescents. A 2001 paper published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that the suicide rate tripled between 1950 and 1990. The rise in depression and other psychological suffering cannot be written off as an artifact of changing definitions. As Psychology Today reported, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a test of psychological well-being, has been administered to large samples of college students throughout the United States going as far back as 1938. A similar test called the MMPI-A has been given to samples of high-school students since 1951. The results are unambiguous: Children, adolescents, and young adults have all experienced dramatic increases in anxiety and depression over the past several decades. The rates of these ailments were much lower during the Great Depression, World War II, and the turbulent 1970s than they are today.

Charen blames the epidemic on the decline of the nuclear family, and she certainly has her finger on a major contributor to the problem. But as Eric Metaxas points out, the crisis really goes deeper than that.  For the decline of the family is itself a symptom of deeper cultural currents.  Metaxas blames the deterioration of mental health on the loss of Christianity:

Somewhere deep inside, unhappy young people know that they were meant for more, much more, than this world can possibly offer. As Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

While this thesis may not be obvious to most people, including most Christians, there is nevertheless a large amount of intriguing data to back it up.  The most credible source for this evidence comes from the mental health profession itself.  A Google search on the topic will yield a bounty of books, articles, and studies which have consistently shown that religious practices improve mental health.  The mental health field has put this research into practice

Millennials: Least Religious

by developing many therapeutic techniques that are derived from ancient religious traditions.  Ever heard of MBSR? It stands for “mindfulness based stress reduction,” and it is a therapeutic technique derived from Buddhist meditation practices.  At a recent Duke lecture, the Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Peteet stated that it was time that spiritual direction be covered by insurance companies as a mental health treatment.

The medical field is prescribing religion for mental illness!  Take a moment to process the radical implications here. If in response to depression and anxiety disorders, mental health experts are now prescribing prayer, meditation, spiritual direction, and other spiritual practices, are they not suggesting that poor mental health is the result of poor spiritual health?  As I have pointed out many times before, we are now witnessing the convergence of two very troubling events:  the rapid disappearance of Christianity from our culture at the same time that suicide and mental illness are increasing at pandemic levels. The clear message from the mental health community is that this is no coincidence.  Whether mental health professionals want to admit the logical but politically incorrect conclusion of their research is beside the point. The conclusion is unavoidable: The mental health community is telling us that our poor mental health is due to an impoverished spiritual life—that secularism has made us sick. We have lost our minds because we have lost our faith.

An Epidemic of Mental Illness in Millennial Youth. Source: Robert Whitaker

The Millennial generation illustrates the point dramatically. They are the least religious generation according to Pew research, and they are also the most mentally ill. (See the two graphics.)

This is exactly the message of much of the Gospel.  Pay close attention to the New Testament Epistles—Galatians, chapter 5 in particular—and what you will uncover is a long-forgotten theology of mind and mental health.  And this Theology of Mind says that mental health  is essentially spiritual. (Brain health is a different story.)

More than twenty years of mental health research confirm this Biblical teaching by showing that religious people are psychologically healthier than secular people. Science is now discovering what the Bible has taught for over two-thousand years:  A robust spiritual life is necessary for happiness and peace of mind.  There just is no substitute.

Our children desperately need to hear this message.  And the rest of the world cannot get this message soon enough either.  Just take a look at the high rates of mental illness in the LGBT community. Thus we have a great evangelizing opportunity before us. The harvest is ripe. But unfortunately, the number of conservative Christian laborers is few. Hopefully, that will begin to change. JG

I Believe in Miracles—If You Don’t—You’re Not a Christian!

One of the important tasks of my apostolate is to communicate the unvarnished truths of Christianity—however unpalatable or intellectually contemptible these may seem to our many cultured despisers.  And one of these truths is that miracles happen.  The supernatural is real even if it is difficult to prove or demonstrate by reason alone.  Although our faith is certainly compatible with reason, reason alone can never bring one to a full acceptance of Church teaching or discipleship with Christ.  Sooner or later—there is just no getting around it—your faith will be tested.  And when faith is truly tested, reason will not be able to carry you.

All throughout the Church’s history prophets have seen the future and miracle workers have healed the sick.  And while much of this stuff belongs to the realm of private revelation, it is nevertheless the case that one must accept such realities in order to be called Christian.  While it is not necessary to believe every visionary or supernatural occurrence, to categorically reject the supernatural is to cross over into heresy.

Some people believe that these subjects discredit our religion in the eyes of many people.  And this is true.  But the avoidance of these subjects is also a discredit to the faith.  Christ warned us that if we would be ashamed of him, he would be ashamed of us.

So do not be ashamed to admit what the Church has always taught—miracles happen.  And lots of smart people have believed in them. Take me for instance! I have written and spoken about my own miraculous experiences that started with my spiritual conversion in 2000 and which reached a climax in Medjugorje.  Eric Metaxas is another one of those “Christian crazies.”  He’s written a whole book on the subject of miracles—called, appropriately enough, Miracles.  He even includes a personal miracle story of his own.  And then there’s John Paul II.  He believed that the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously intervened to save his life.

Consider the words of St. Paul:

28And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts (1Cor. 12:28–30).  RSV

So don’t be surprised if, from time to time, I share one of my own encounters with the supernatural.

Update

I was doing research for another blog piece when I stumbled across someone else who admits to seeing Jesus.  Kirsten Powers started out working for the Democratic Party and used to be an atheist.  When she began dating a Christian, she promised him that she would keep an open mind.  Then she saw Jesus. That’s the Reader’s-Digest version.  Here are her own words from an article she wrote for Christianity Today:

Then one night in 2006, on a trip to Taiwan, I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, “Here I am.” It felt so real. I didn’t know what to make of it. I called my boyfriend, but before I had time to tell him about it, he told me he had been praying the night before and felt we were supposed to break up. So we did. Honestly, while I was upset, I was more traumatized by Jesus visiting me.

I highly recommend her book The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free SpeechJG