Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bipolar or Sin?

It seems like everybody and their dog has been diagnosed as being Bipolar these days. It's the trendiest of the smörgåsbord of mental illnesses, and according to a recent New York Times article, it is increasingly becoming the diagnosis of choice for children as well. Time will tell if it will surpass ADD/ADHD as the favorite school-counselor armchair diagnosis.

As with ADD/ADHD there is no biological test to confirm or deny the disorder, and no genetic connection has ever been proven. The diagnosis is mainly determined by looking at behavior and emotional symptoms. People who are labeled with Bipolar Disorder often have huge mood swings and pendulum from emotional high to low, with little or no apparent cause.

A couple of years ago, Christian pop singer, Michael O'Brien announced that he and his wife were diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This week I heard an updated testimony from Michael and his wife Heidi on Billy Graham's website, where they shared about Michael's life-long pornography addiction. I am so thankful that Michael has confessed his sin and is walking on the path to victory. I'm sure this has been a difficult thing for them to discuss in public but I pray that their honesty will help many other hurting couples/families.

I had to think though that living a double life, being in Christian ministry, and hiding a lurid secret sin, would cause you to exhibit some Bipolar tendencies. While medication can help sedate you so you don't think about your problems, and therapy can help you believe that nothing you do is your fault, only the redeeming power of Jesus can deliver you, and me, from our sins.

A great example of the healing power of Jesus is demonstrated in the life of another popular Christian singer, Russ Taff. Listen to Russ' testimony of God's deliverance from many years of emotional bondage in this interview with Bill Gaither.

In Deut. 28:28, mental disorders are promised as a consequence to disobeying God. However, if you read the entire chapter, you will see the vast promises that are given to those who live pure and obedient lives. God has set before us this day life and death, blessings and cursings: Choose Life!


Marja said...

Very well written Israel. Although I live under the new covenant (which freed me from the curse of the Law) I purposely make a choice to OBEY God every day because I love Him, because Jesus commanded it and because He promises to bless me (even more) if I do so!

Alder Stream said...

I grew up as the oldest of 8 homeschooled kids, and thought I knew I thing or two about raising a happy, healthy child. I was devastated when my little 5 year old started telling me she wished she was dead, she wished a lion would eat her, or she wished we would mail her to Africa so she would never come back. 4 long years later she is a brave homeschooled 9 year old who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is in our family history. She struggles every day to hold on through the huge emotional waves that disrupt her brain. It is almost unfathomable to imagine a disease that can affect the brain of a child, so that they feel like death would be a better option. There is no quick fix, no better parenting,and no magic pill that can cure this disease. I know it is easier to point fingers than to face the reality of mental illness. If you accept it as fact, you would have to admit that it can strike your family, just as easily as it has mine. None of us want to think about that. Many of us continue to deny the reality of mental illness until it happens to someone we love, we watch them suffer, pray for their very life, and humbly admit that we don't know everything after all.
Researchers now are trying to uncover why the rise in bipolar diagnosis is occurring. The three possibilities are that it was under diagnosed in the past, is being over diagnosed now, or more people are developing the illness. It is very likely a combination of all three. Sin has affected our world, our bodies, and our minds. Though created good and whole, our planet and our race will not last forever and we groan for our final redemption.
God has BLESSED me with a child with bipolar disorder. Through this experience He is making me humble, compassionate and understanding. He is drawing my daughter's heart to Himself through the struggles she faces because of her illness. I pray that He will use her life to speak of His presence in the midst of mental illness.

Anna Klein said...

As someone who both suffers from mental illness and knows God as my father, I would find your post offensive if I did not understand it was written from unfortunate ignorance. I can only pray that one day you, too, will be freed to know God's true, amazing grace in ALL situations.

If I were not mentally ill, God would never have been able to use my life as the testimony to himself the way he has done in the past three years. Every breath I take is a gift from him, even my damaged mind is a gift from him.

Mental illness is no different than cancer or a missing limb. One would not say to a person who's leg had been amputated "Why aren't you up and running around?" Once that person gets a prosthetic leg then running is possible, but only after grueling hours of learning and patience and incredible pain.

So it is with mental illness. I learn to live with it, to control it to some extent, to learn how to reach out for help when I can't control it, but I can never wish it away.

I can never make that missing leg grow back.

Thanks be to God.

Israel Wayne said...

The difference between cancer or a broken arm and mental disorders such as ADHD or Bipolar is that there is no physical quantifier that can be used for a diagnosis of these new mental disorders. Doctors ask questions about behavior and then make a psychological (not physiological) diagnosis. I don't doubt the behavior. However, if you are going to claim a physiological cause, you should be able to point to some physiological evidence to support the claim. There should be some genetic chromosomal evidence, as is the case with Down Syndrome or other "mental" issues, but there is none. Until such a genetic link is proven, one should not rule out the more obvious possibility of external causes (of which there are many). I'm not unsympathetic to those who are exhibiting these behaviors, and I'm especially sympathetic with those who care for these struggling people. I just can't believe that these are true physical problems when there is NO medical proof of such a claim.

Alder Stream said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alder Stream said...

Thank you for responding. You are correct in stating that research is not at the point where we can link Bipolar disorder to one particular gene, or do one brain scan to see what's going on. The fact is that mental illness is much more complicated than other diseases that we can see, but that does not mean it doesn't exist. It means that because the brain is so amazingly complex, it takes a lot of research to target things like brain differences and genetic roots.

We do need this research, not to prove that bipolar exists, but in order to diagnose and treat people better. Which is why in two weeks my daughter and I are flying to the National Institutes of Health to participate in a research progam they are doing with kids with bipolar. Your posts reminds me why we are doing this, for better treatment for my daughter first of all, and then to advance the frontier of medical research. It is research that was needed yesterday.

There comes a point when you have ruled out every possible external cause, and you must look at the possibility of mental illness. Even though the research is not there yet, my child is. She doesn't look different, but she thinks and feels differently. And that is no less valid.

Here is some progress that's been made in research recently:

Genetic Roots of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Youth Show Distinct Pattern of Brain Development

anna said...

If you had any idea how it feels to live with bipolar as a Christian, you would feel ashamed of the condemning tone of what you've written. You've got no idea what you're talking about. Wake up.

M1Thumb said...

Having read your profile information, I would have expected better theology out of you. It's sadly typical that we Christians so often quote a verse completely separated from its surrounding context (in this case, Moses speaking to the nation of Israel having delivered the Law.) If I wanted to refute your argument with the same level of contextual honesty, I'd say that a non-existent God can't strike anyone. After all, Psalm 14:1 says, "There is no God."

Misunderstood Scripture aside, you list something that "has no physical symptoms" and then claim that God has probably struck these people, citing a verse which includes in the same sentence BLINDNESS, which is a physical ailment.

In any case, by your logic, you must surely admit that all the famine, boils and disease in the world are specific punishments for sin in people's lives?

Do you preach the health and wealth "name it, claim it" prosperity gospel just to be consistent? Have you earned every good thing in your life? Every blessing God has given you is because you've earned it?

It astounds me that someone who is saved by grace - who would vehemently tell you that you can't earn your way to heaven - would turn around and proclaim that you can earn your way to being smitten with 'madness.'

Of course sin carries with it its own natural consequence. Be promiscuous, get an STD. Drink too much, get liver disease. But explain to me again what you do to get bipolar or cancer...

Yes, cancer, let's come back to that. You contend that it's a different category than mental illness because one can cut a tumor from the body but one can't quantify dopamine. Okay, fine. But surely you admit that it's a consequence of sin as well? I mean it's unasked-for suffering that isn't a direct consequence of anything, so it must be the smiting hand of God, right?

Tell that to the 6 year old with leukemia. "Your sin brought you this."

Go read Job. Then read up on mental illness instead of just spewing ignorance that causes people who are really, truly suffering to suffer even more. Better yet, go meet someone with schizophrenia and explain to them how their sin made them this way.

We live in a fallen world, my friend. Bad things happen to people who have done nothing to earn their specific burden. Don't misread me - I'm not saying that people are inherently good. We all carry sinfulness with us, and because we live in this fallen world, we are subject to suffering. But what can you DO to get cancer? What can you DO to become bipolar? Mis-diagnosis and over-diagnosis aside (I heartily agree these are problems in our country), you are completely wrong to state that someone's illness is God's judgment for their sin. His judgment for our sin is eternal damnation, and through Christ we are spared from that judgment. Until eternity, we must live in this fallen world where people suffer things that are seemingly random. Don't try to explain suffering by saying someone earned it. Instead, point them to Christ and encourage them to be strong through it. You want all this proof for the existence of a known medical condition and yet you stand in condemnation of some alleged sin committed by those who suffer from it. (Talk about not being able to prove something...)

Rethink your position. You're horribly misguided.

Israel Wayne said...


You are misunderstanding (or intentionally misrepresenting) my position. To clarify:

1. I am not saying that all physical (or even mental) disorders or caused by individual sin. Most are not. (Of course individual sin can contribute to physical and mental disorders: STD's, drug-induced mental illness, lung cancer from smoking, etc. are all examples of how bad decisions can create genuine physical illness.) In general though, sickness, disease and death are caused by the fact that we live in a fallen world, which is a result of original sin.

2. A physical ailment, such as blindness or cancer is a physical issue that has a physical cause.

3. Bipolar is not a disease. It is a behavioral pattern. Behavior is not physical (although behavior can manifest itself by means of some physical effects). Behavior is an act of the will.

4. The BEHAVIOR represented by what people call, "Bipolar" is real. Some people really do have huge mood swings and act out in ways that are not normal (thus the term "disorder"). That much is undeniable.

5. Why do people act in abnormal ways and do things that are not ordered, but are rather "disordered"? The most common belief under-girding "mental illness theory" is that something in their genetics is causing them to exhibit this behavior against their will. There is not a shred of evidence for that theory (for all of the "mental illnesses I have mentioned).

6. I have researched biploar (and other "mental illnesses") and while the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and others insist that bipolar (along with most other mental disorders) is CAUSED, at least in part, by genetics, they have NO PROOF for that claim whatsoever. There is no gene or set of genes that causes bipolar behavior (or ADD, or alcoholism, or homosexuality, or any other abnormal behavior). So it isn't a genetic cause.

7. The popular belief in Bipolar being a physical genetic disorder is driven by the presupposition that people are born inherently good. Supposedly, people only do bad things when something corrupts them genetically or socially. That simply isn't true. Why don't people ever discover that they have a "disorder" that makes them go out and do nice things for people? Why don't some people get labeled as having some genetic glitch that makes them say only kind words or walk old ladies across the street?

8. I'm not unsympathetic to the people who act out manifesting the behavioral patterns that people call "bipolar disorder", or for those who have to live with them. It is a terribly difficult situation. However, to believe that bipolar behavior is caused by your genes is unscientific and misleading. If "bipolar" behavior were truly physical, there would be physical tests that identify the cause of the behavior. There are none.

M1Thumb said...

I'm not misunderstanding or misrepresenting your position.

Your position is that bipolar disorder is not a disease. You contend that those who have bipolar are acting in sin when they exhibit symptoms, or at least that they could simply stop being bipolar if they so desired or 'had the will'. You initially misrepresented part of the Mosaic covenant as a general promise to believers, and went on to not defend that point when I called you out on it.

I'll respond to your points:

1. At least we agree about original sin.
2. Mental illnesses have physical causes as well - namely chemical imbalances in the brain.
3. Uncontrollable suicidal thoughts, insomnia caused by a brain that will not shut down, irrational thinking, delusions and many of the other symptoms of bipolar are not matters of the will. To make such a statement underscores your total lack of contact with anyone who has ever truly suffered from this disease. You make later mention of other mental illnesses, so I'll take the opportunity to drag schizophrenia into the point. Bipolar and schizophrenia can present in similar manners under certain circumstances, so I think it's fair and relevant. So my question is - does the man who hears things and sees things that are not there have the will to make it stop? I know it's fun to laugh about "the voices in your head," but can you imagine enduring such an ailment and then have someone tell you that if you just wanted to badly enough, you could make it all go away with willpower? Bipolar is no different.
4. Bipolar includes a lot more than mood swings and 'acting out.' Bipolar can occur in such a way that people around the person with the disease don't even know that it's happening.
5 & 6. Just because science can't or hasn't proven or found something doesn't mean you can dismiss it out-of-hand. Good grief, you think we've reached the apex of scientific knowledge? Do you think that we know all there is to know about genetics? They're finding new things out every day! But what's the difference? Why does the unknown cause of the illness illegitimate its existence in your mind? Just because you can't point to a gene causing a chemical imbalance doesn't mean the imbalance doesn't exist. You are aware, aren't you, that they don't know what causes Alzheimer's? Do you think that ailment is simply a matter of the will as well?
7. Why do people not get tumors that give them superhuman strength or genius IQs? Why do people go blind instead of gain telescopic vision? Why does a cracked spine paralyze rather than empower? Because illness is illness. It destroys! You're aware that creation is fallen yet you're baffled that mental illnesses present with negative rather than positive symptoms?
8. You're not unsympathetic, and yet you use the language, "...those who have to live with them." How exactly would you go about physically proving what's going on in someone's brain? I mean, come on man, you and I are both creationists, right? Do you really think that we can measure and observe everything that takes place in the human brain? It's perhaps the most complex thing in creation! And because we can't WATCH the dopamine and serotonin bouncing around the receptors, you deny an entire category of illness. Astounding!

Look, here's the real problem. You're dangerously ignorant about this. Our society is over-medicated and over-diagnosed, that's true. Some people undoubtedly know what to say to a psychiatrist to get a prescription filled. But to make a blanket statement denying an entire range of illnesses that afflict very real people in horrible, horrible ways is beyond insensitive, almost beyond comprehension to me. Despite the vitriol of my comments to you, you and I share a lot of core values. But you need to wake up to the reality that illness affects the human mind. I hope you meet someone who has bipolar. I hope God brings you a bipolar friend, or a schizophrenic friend. Someone with whom you can share the suffering of the awful disease of mental illness. Until then, I'm afraid you'll go on denying, and in so doing, turning people away from the Church. How so? Well, if you told a cancer patient that the cancer was really their fault, but if they confessed it to Jesus He'd just make it go away...I think if you did that you'd turn an awful lot of cancer patients away from the Church. So it is with Bipolar disorder. People, real people suffer from it - and they struggle with it. They live with it. They find joy in life and in Christ despite the affliction of their mind. And you claim they can just stop it with enough willpower. You just have no idea. Again, you've got me hopping mad (because someone I love and am close to suffers from this), but I wish you no ill will. I wish only that God will open your eyes.

figure8 said...

Get a clue! You are not a doctor. You are not a counselor. This is quite obviously not your area of expertise. I suffer with bipolar disorder and I do not NEED nor WANT your sympathy. I do not NEED a caregiver and if I did they probably would not NEED or WANT your SYMPATHY either!! I think maybe the word you're looking for here is EMPATHY! Try to put yourself in someone else's shoes sometime instead of going off half cocked. You're no better than me! Jesus told me so.

libertygal said...

I have read much of the site regarding the relationship between bipolar and sin that you have here. I would just like to add some information to those who have desperately tried to let you know that bipolar is not just some sin madness. In actuality, bipolar does have PHYSICAL manifestation of irregularity in the shape of the caudate heads and putamen in the brain, particularly on the right side, which can be treated with medication. Please see http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/reprint/163/2/276.pdf, published in 2006. Your dogma regarding bipolar without researching THOROUGHLY brought unnecessary hurt and pain to those who suffer with bipolar disorder as caregivers, or the diseased. What would Jesus do? I doubt seriously that Jesus would be so dogmatic and discompassionate.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou brother for speaking the truth. I am being diagnosed bipolar, but God has already givin me my diagnosis, sin. Yet with his diagnosis comes the remedy, unlike the psychotherapists who have no remedy whatsoever, my remedy is repentance, and faith in Christ Jesus, that leads to obedience, and all those beautiful blessings. Glory to God

God Bless

He knows that they are Futile said...

also may I add. Bipolar symptoms are the complete opposite to the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. I have been diagnosed as having bipolar, so I can speak from experience.

Love- its opposite, Hate. which comes across when bipolar people like myself communicate. though not all hate but you seem to hate Isreal Wayne for having an opinion and accuse him of everything that He has not said.

joy- its opposite is sadness or depression.(bipolar symptom)

peace- its opposite is confusion(bipolar symptom)

patience- its opposite impatience (bipolar symptom)

kindness- its opposite rudeness (bipolar symptom in me anyway)

goodness- its opposite badness (bipolar symptom)

gentleness- its opposite harsh (bipolar symptom)

faithfulness- its opposite unfaithfulness and adultery or fornication (bipolar symptom)

self control- its opposite, no control and irritable (bipolar symptom)

See what satan has done, told us sinners that we are not really sinful but just unwell, Satan says "So sorry poor little people but there is really no cure for this, but my psychiatrists will look after you and keep you decieved and deluded until the day of judgement, when I will laugh at you all. Fools"

But God says, my precious precious Children, how I love you and long for you to return to me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, I am drawing you to myself with cords of Love and compassion. I understand your pain, and I know all your symptoms, I died in your place so that if you turn around from the way you are walking and return to me, I will be your Psychiatrist, ie is your soul Dr. No body else is qualified, and I will accept you and pour my Holy Spirit upon you and you will have Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, faithfulness and self control. I will plant the seed and the fruit will grow. Be patient with yourself. My ways of healing you can seem rough, but I know what I am doing, I am your Father, and I love you more than anything in the whole world. You are my beloved. I will set you free"

God is love.

We are told that in the last days, which we are living in that even the elect could be deceived if that were possible.

Stop trusting in man, and put all your hope and trust in the Living God.

Its difficult but Jesus is the only way.

Love Ricky