Do we put too much emphasis on the brain? This is the question asked recently by Bill McKenzie, a blogger for Dallas News, after reading an article questioning the diagnosis of many children said to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The author of that piece, Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University’s School of Medicine, theorized that a portion of children diagnoses with ADHD may actually have sleep disorders overlooked by the easier target of ADHD.
This lead McKenzie to start pondering if maybe brain science and mental health studies have reached a point where they overshadow more practical reasons for an individual’s failings in behavioral norms. He asks if sin could possibly be the source of these “mental health” issues rather than chemical imbalances which cause “abnormal” behavior.
While McKenzie’s questions have some legitimacy to them, the opinions he shared from other religious academics shows the worm hole opened up when undermining mental health diagnoses and the field itself, while also showing a clear misinterpretation of how counseling and mental health diagnostic tests go.
Matthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University, highlights this misunderstanding the best by outright saying that by diagnosing illness we are removing personal accountability, apparently unaware of how mental health treatment works.
When we sit down with patients to get to the root of their issues, almost every question focuses on day-to-day life, and what influences are causing these issues reported by the patient. There is never an immediate assumption that anyone asking for support from a counselor or mental health professional has a legitimate mental illness, but rather they are struggling with their life at the time which may or may not be a result of mental health issues, and in the worst case scenarios there are those that come to doctors hoping to find access to prescription medicines they can abuse.
This is why counselors search through all the information we are given to hope to identify what is causing an individual’s problems, and if those complaints are truthful. We don’t aim to medicate, or even diagnose every person we meet, and we certainly don’t remove personal accountability. If it is indicated that a person was raised with inattentive parents or that they are simply breaking moral codes because they enjoy it, the cause of the personal struggle is quite possibly not mental illness, though it is still an option due to genetic predisposition, and we commence treatment focused on reorienting those people.
Once a professional decision has been made to diagnose someone with a mental illness, it is a tentative diagnosis like any that any health professional gives, in that the diagnose can be altered with any new information.
While a diagnosis may be cause for a medical prescription, the actual treatment comes in the form of therapy for the condition. In therapy, we don’t advocate any sort of behavior that excuses actions based on mental illness, except in the cases of the severely mentally handicapped, which is an entirely different scenario. Someone with bi-polar disorder isn’t told they are completely excused from their actions, but rather we work to mediate the emotions and thoughts that lead to aberrant actions.
McKenzie’s initial thoughts are innocent, and in some cases can be well placed. However, by citing sin as a cause for any sort of mental illness, he places a foot firmly in the ideological camp which has been refusing or shaming innocent people in the church simply for having a biological condition. I’m not saying it isn’t possible sin could possibly lead to mental struggle, especially when that sin begins to weigh so heavily on an individual it physically effects them, however allowing the idea that sin is the seed of mental illness stay as prominent in the church as it currently is only hurts those searching for the light of God just like all of us.