What engineer or architect would describe flaws in a bridge or building he’d never seen? What doctor would describe the fractures in the bones of a patient he’d never examined? But some who make their living in the mental health industry feel no compunction describing the psychiatric problems suffered by people they’ve never met.
Here are some of their pronouncements. The great scientist and Bible scholar, Isaac Newton was bipolar and suffered from autism and schizophrenia. Winston Churchill suffered from clinical depression. According to the Journal of Medical Biography, Michelangelo, the artist who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, was autistic. Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Charles Darwin and many other great achievers of history are similarly described.
I must confess to being very skeptical. Considering Churchill, most of the cited evidence revolves around his self-described Black Dog. Having spent some of my childhood in the United Kingdom, I remember that the term meant being in a bad mood or getting out of bed on the wrong side. Churchill’s own daughter confirms that there were times during World War II that her famous father was in a bad mood. There were also times when he felt and expressed deep, inconsolable grief at the loss of Allied soldiers. Does that translate into clinical depression? Certainly not.
So why the current obsession with diagnosing famous and accomplished figures with various mental illnesses? Follow the money. Since the 1960s our culture has been trying to label moral shortcomings like gambling and marital infidelity as mental illness. “Cheating is Genetic,” was the breathless headline in one weekly journal. Well, of course it is! Indeed, cheating is far more common in humans with an X and a Y chromosome than in people with two X chromosomes.
Since the 1960s mental health costs have been rising at a significantly higher rate than general health costs. This can have only two possible causes. Either Americans have been stricken with growing epidemics of mental problems or else the colossal money machine of governmental involvement in medicine is incentivizing the “right” diagnoses. The cascade of articles highlighting the mental problems of prominent people who are dead and can thus no longer contradict spurious claims suggests that the latter explanation may be more correct.
Obviously I recognize the existence of serious mental disorder. My meanderings on this topic concern whether all that is today thus diagnosed is in fact that. One way to diagnose more mental disorders is by expanding the criteria. Surely those who carried heavy weight upon their shoulders might have experienced symptoms of depressive disorder. They must have felt, at times, an inability to focus on long term projects, feelings of hopelessness and withdrawal from relationships and even possibly had suicidal thoughts. Well, almost everyone passionately engaged in life’s challenges will have periods like that. Why wouldn’t Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln have had terrible times of doubt and hopelessness?
I don’t for a moment doubt that it has to be enormously comforting for any person who is not coping with life to receive a diagnosis that accounts for his problems. It is just that I feel that prior to the 1960s, without these diagnoses available, many more people tended to cope. Perhaps they dug deep into their reserves of grit and determination. Perhaps they sought and received social and spiritual help.
Five Biblical personalities expressed a desire to die. Without question they were experiencing a potent neurological cocktail of grief, disappointment, anger, and hopelessness. They all recovered and resumed doing those things for which they were known.
The five who express a desire to end their existence (not counting actual suicides such as Samson and Ahitofel) are Moses, Jonah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Job.
If You would deal like this with me, rather kill me I beg You,
and let me not see my wretchedness.
Please, Lord, take my life, for I would rather die than live.
And he went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a retem bush and sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. “Enough!” he cried. “Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
( I Kings 19:4)
Accursed be the day I was born… Let not the day be blessed when my mother bore me…so that my mother might be my grave…
Would that my request be granted, that God give me what I wish for; would that God consented to crush me, loosed His hand and cut me off.
Each of these extraordinary men is beset by disappointment, grief, and pain. Their response, a hopeless throwing up of their hands and asking for it all to end, is a perfectly natural and perfectly normal feeling.
However, God neither indulges their whining nor expresses sympathy with a fatherly, “There, there, things will improve”. Instead, God prescribes three medications: He reminds them that He never promised them that life would resemble a stroll through a rose garden. He reminds them that the universe does not revolve around them and that unseen phenomena that they don’t understand are involved. And, He demands that they get back to work. And this is precisely what all five men do.
Everybody actively engaged in the fight we call life has bad days or even bad weeks and months. Certainly there is sometimes a need for medical assistance and it must be sought. But, just possibly, many diagnoses could perhaps be more safely treated spiritually rather than pharmacologically. Just like Michelangelo who had a ceiling to paint, and Isaac Newton who had to understand and explain gravity, and just like Churchill who had a war to win, we too can gain help during our more difficult times by remembering the three prescriptions.
1) Whenever life happens to be easy and smooth, recognize those periods as highly abnormal and be grateful.
2) Remember that this is a big world and we are not the center of it all.
3) Finally, remember you are here for a purpose, so get on with it and get to work.
36 thoughts on “Get Back to Work”
I am one of the ‘miracle’ ‘patients’ who fully recovered from mental troubles only through spiritual counselling. My family were ‘concerned’ when I ditched the pharmaceutical medication and to this day there had been no clear explanation to my recovery until I came across this article. Very informative and empowering in other areas of life as well where government and the world system are trying to fleece us.
Rabbi Lapin, your wisdom and insight are always so good! Only if we could witness the psychological toughness of our ascendant whom born before WWII …. my late grandparents (Born in 1910s) and late parents (born in 1930/40s) were just keep going through their toughest days and still mentally strong and self fulfilling as they are living for a purpose on earth! In Australia, “specialists” are asking findings for treating kids as young as 4 with mental illness and asking parents to treat them!? Oh please I thought that’s so so wrong! Anyway, thank you once again for Susan, you and your team’s week after week godly teaching! I really appreciate it! Have a wonderful week!
I am dealing with a person in my life, a parent, who causes me so much distress. Now the same parent is causing my children distress too and I am heart broken. I can not decide if this person is mentally ill or just plain hateful. The jury has been out since this person’s childhood. At any rate, I am feeling very distressed this evening dealing with this along with other stressors and just broke down and cried. I felt like giving up just as these scriptures say. I know I am not expressing my thoughts clearly however I am very, very grateful for this article. It encouraged me more that you can ever know. Thank you Rabbi and Susan,
Great post! Following along with this theme, one thing I have noticed with some kids and teens is that parents are sending their children to therapists as a replacement for parenting. I think counseling can be helpful for kids who have endured trauma, but in some cases it’s misused. I’ve seen several people I’m personally acquainted with do this. Instead of doing the hard part of parenting, they refer their child to a counselor to deal with them instead.
Last year, a girl that was friends with my daughter was very jealous, controlling, and manipulative of my daughter. I talked to the mom about this girl’s behavior, and we later found out that in response to this, they sent her to therapy. I can guess that there was little to no discipline for this behavior, and this only compounded the problem. The girl continued her controlling behavior in spite of therapy, and now with a new sense of self righteousness and entitlement. She believed she was now justified in her awful treatment of my daughter because she was “just expressing her feelings” and her problems were bigger than everyone else’s (the girl even told me this). Her mother fully supported her terrible behavior, and we had to cut off all communication with the family.
I was astounded that the family would send their daughter to a therapist for her controlling behavior instead of imparting discipline. Another family sent their child to therapy and was told by the therapist not to discipline their child much, or it would compound her problems and make her miserable. This is NOT what parenting is about, but I suspect this is now commonplace and creating a generation of entitled children who think they can mistreat others because their own problems are special, bigger than everyone else’s, and they can speak disrespectfully under the guise of “expressing themselves”. And they refuse instruction because they know everything there is to know about their problems. It’s the perfect storm to create a toxic person.
Excellent insights. Ties in well with your post on building the Tabernacle in Exodus–the Hebrews stopped complaining when God asked them to start giving.
I’m not sure, though, how the government is responsible for the uptick in mental health issues. It seems if you follow the money it leads directly to the pharmaceutical industry. Their practices–like paying doctors to push certain pills, their extravagant marketing budgets, and their expensive lobbying campaigns–have reaped enormous profits at the expense of the American public. From Prozac to Ritalin, we’ve become their guinea pigs.
Government involvement lies in yielding to the lawyer lobby and colossal expansion in both the number of mental disorders listed in the DSM as well as the monumental increase in mental disorder classifications in the now about 100,000 ICD-9 diagnosis codes. There is a natural limit to the number of physical disorders; after all we all have only two legs, one heart, lungs and kidneys. There is a fixed number of organs and a fixed limit to the number of possible problems. However, the great thing about being in the mental health industry is that there is literally no limit to the possible disorders. For instance, earlier versions of the DSM (not that long ago either, in the 1980s) did not list homophobia as a treatable (and reimbursed) mental disorder. The possible number of mental problems that a human can suffer from is limited only by the imagination of greedy practitioners and bureaucrats.
A long sad squalid story.
Dear Rabbi Lapin: How right you are. By beholding we become changed. All of us have a work to do to glorify God in some small or large way according to our abilities. I have listened to your CD The Perils of Profanity and it has helped to stabilize my thoughts. After working for one year and 7 months for a lawyer who cursed daily, I picked up a bad word that came out too easily when provoked by a loved one. I don’t work for that lawyer now and don’t seem to have the problem. Thank you.
watch out for the company you keep recommends ancient Jewish wisdom and it’s wise advice on so many levels.
Thank you Rabbi Lapin. Something about reading the Word out loud. Solutions with God are not overnight. His grace is sufficient.
You’re welcome Esther-
Well since we are on the subject of mental disorder, there is something that has been puzzling me as well as the whole nation.
For the last 5 years, my neighborhood (LAX area in Los Angeles) have been rapidly plagued with issues of homelessness and mental disorder. It’s like one of those Tv shows about zombies that use to be so popular.
These precious yet unfortunate souls have slept and lived on the sidewalks at an alarming rate. At any given time, these individuals can be very disruptive, often times having discussions with either themselves, or someone that only they can see. And these discussions are full of profanity and sometimes threat of violence.
Businesses in the area have started hiring security full time due to theft and vandalism. The police department are having to rely on the mental department more than ever. Neighbors are afraid to walk in what was considered a well-kept, very quiet, upper scaled neighborhood.
I know there are other neighborhoods around the country with the same problems.
What is your opinion, Rabbi? Is this really an issue about mental disorder?
A long complicated story, Lisa–
not nearly as simple as the “authorities” make it out to be. To them, this can easily be solved by confiscating more money from hard working citizens who are viewed as “taxpayers” as if this was our only or even our chief function.
Just remember Lapin rule #147: When they start handing out money, the line grows exponentially.
Did Rachel similarly voice a death wish to Jacob in Genesis 30 1? And perhaps Rebecca in this week’s portion, Gen 27 45-46?
Thank you Rabbi.
I am not and will never be great nor a man but these great men in history, don’t forget Hemingway, I have always admired. I had to study Job when my only son went home to be with the Lord. I too have secretly suffered mental instability but I have identified that seated in the ups and downs of it all is PRIDE. I hate pride. I think I have to solve the world’s problems. You know, if I don’t take care of things, what’s going to happen to us? Reading your Thought Tools made me laugh at myself (again) for now until the next wave of delusional grandeur.
Stay strong Teena-
You can’t imagine how happy we were to hear that you laughed while reading our Thought Tool. There is a special place in heaven reserved for those who make others laugh (without vulgarity).
PS: I am sorry but I would be derelict in my duties were I not to inform you that Ernest Hemingway was not a great man. He was, in my view, a more or less okay writer; a semi-decent boater/fisherman but not even close to being a great man. Great men don’t drink to excess, betray and maltreat women, and agree to spy on their country.
From new every moment, Deb
Wonderful point, Rabbi! We all get off the beam at times, and the remedy is to get back on it and keep going. For starters, we can view the glass as half full, which doesn’t mean we go straight to “chirpy cheerfulness”. Half empty implies the search for what’s wrong (like Freud). I like to call the better approach “Habitual God-aligned mental self-discipline”, admittedly easier said than done.
Queridos Rabino y Susan, esta ilustracion profunda a contestado varias de mis preguntas que tenia por algun tiempo. Le agradezco mucho que siga compartiendo de la enorme sabiduria que El todopoderoso le a brindado. Bendicion!
Thank you Dora–
Everyone has worries, fears and pain. Not all of these need or should be treated with chemical medication. Some of them are best treated with spiritual solutions. The Bible with a does of ancient Jewish wisdom nearly always helps
Your words for me, are remarkably wonderful in their timing. Thank you Rabbi.
I feel sad to know that you have current need for these words but I feel happy to have been privileged to have been of some small service to you
Wonderful piece to wake at at 3am today to read. I normally don’t eake up around this time. This has caused a huge burden off my shoulder. Like God’s answer to my call not long ago. We should all avail ourselves this way for God to use us to heal people’s hurt like you have. God bless
Your friend, William
Thank you for writing WIlliam,
As I said to Darrell, sorry you had need of these words but happy they helped.
There is no doubt, dear Rabbi, that the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has expanded by leaps and bounds, and will likely continue to expand. I have little doubt that the motives of its contributors are pure, that is, that they wish to expand the level of awareness, treatment and therapy for the conditions therein defined. Yet the fact remains that there is a certain professional prestige in ‘discovering,’ nominating, researching and promoting the latest variation on mental aberration, and such activities can be a great ‘shot in the arm’ to an investigator. Thus a new entry in the DSM seems a great ‘carrot’ incentive to get a professional’s name in the spotlight. How can the Manual fail to expand? And psychologists and psychiatrists have a whole new spectrum of conditions to seek out and to identify in prospective patients. And so the self-perpetuating cycle continues.
Add to that the loss of religion and its comforts and the banning of God from the schools. Without a personal relationship with a spiritual mentor on whom to call, life must seem very bleak indeed. The Scriptures, as you point out, demonstrate the lives of men greater than ourselves, and how they had to suffer in their lives before their luck turned in the end. I wonder if their longing for death was but a rhetorical entreaty to God to hear their misery and lessen their burdens. But if we read, we can learn from their example. As I recall saying once before, I heard a broadcast by a prominent coach, when he said some of his team told him they wanted to be ‘great men.’ His reply: ‘So how many great men have you studied?’ Great men do not have easy lives. Just about every great man I know of has met a certain ‘Waterloo’ and had to overcome it. Thanks for your excellent message.
Thanks for your substantive letter James,
I have been following (and actually reading) the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM ever since DSM II back soon after I arrived in the USA in 1974 (It had already been out a year or two) all the way up to the current edition of DSM V. That its creators have pure motives is not in doubt. What is in doubt is which moral system we use to evaluate purity. Not to compare obviously, but the motives of the 9-11 terrorists were undoubtedly pure, would you not agree? They gave their lives in pursuit of those motives. Purity of motive is not guarantee of virtue.
“So how many great men have you studied?” is a wonderful question that each of us ought to confront.
Thanks, dear Rabbi! Your discussion of ‘pure motives’ is apropos and alarming. Yes, I would agree: at least some of the 9-11 attackers were convinced that they were doing some wonderful thing. In writing, I had a feeling that some of the items in the modern DSM would make you as nervous as they make me, by setting in stone man-engineered constructs for the High Priests of Psychiatry to follow that many will use to define ‘norms.’
As for ‘greatness,’ somebody said ‘Most people are just about as happy as they make up their minds to be.’ That inspires me to opine, ‘People can be just about as great as they aspire to be (but they must do their homework).’ Whether we actually make it there is quite another story.
Please glance at my response to Jacob nearby.
Well, I did indeed. Superb, dear Rabbi! Your thinking and mine are parallel: there exists a Psychiatric Machine. I suspect there is one worthy disorder that we may never see: TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), coined by some talk show host to describe hatred towards a man of authority, a hatred so visceral and unreasoned that its sufferers are blind to all his accomplishments. The victims of this disorder I suspect to be adherents to the godless new religion of secular fundamentalism, which is now quick to cast stones at God. Such adherents believe, for example, that a mere 150 years of direct measurement of climate by humans qualifies us to prognosticate the fate of Planet Earth on a global, cosmic scale. They also believe that Big Government is the answer, despite the catastrophic failures of Socialism in all its loathsome forms, costing the planet millions of human lives during the benighted 20th century. ‘Oh, THIS time it will be different, because WE will be in charge.’ No. God is not mocked. Some power-crazed Nimrod will once again arise to the occasion; absolute power corrupts absolutely and all will suffer.
When one runs away from God, when one wants to find ANY answer other than God, there is no answer, no solace.
God is the ONLY answer to any question.
Of course you are correct but your concise formulation is a little like saying to someone whose reading light has burned out, “Space and Time are the same thing. That is the answer.” This is undoubtedly true since Einstein’s observation lies at the heart of all physics and the burn out of the bulb has a simple physical explanation.
However, for most of us, it is just not very useful. Yes, God is the only answer to any question but if I am hurting, those words alone can sound callous. I need practical guidance to find God and His answer to my hurt.
That is precisely what we try to do with Thought Tools. Provide a bridge to God’s answers to life’s many challenges.
Daniel, I like these essays quite a bit. As a man who knows what needs doing. The “farm” needs a farmer. Even tho that’s not favorable nomenclature. Hehe.. Please continue talking to men more.
Thank you for your favorable comments. You’re right, I usually portray the vision of society promulgated by the faith of Secular Progressive Fundamentalism as farm animals owned, used and cared for by the farmer (government)
Dear Rabbi Lapin thank you for your teachings. I love learning more and more about God’s language. You and Susan are brave to put into print the articles/ideas you do because you often go against what is “politically correct”. This article is right on point. Too many today expect God to smooth out all the bumps of life; but, like you said…..He never promised that all would be hunkydory. No problems and challenges equals no growth in faith. God wants us to depend on His Word to guide us; but, we have become a soft, whinning, “me” kind of people in so many cases. God keeps His promises and that means He will be with us through thick and thin. Judy
Thank you Judy,
We feel privileged to be able to teach His word to such eager, passionate, and open people.
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