Drug-Based Vs. Faith-Based Mental Health Programs
Is the White House Playing Both Ends Against the Middle?

Do Americans need more drugs or more prayer and emotional support to wage an effective battle against mental illness? The White House wants both. But President Bush is sending mixed signals to health care providers and consumers, calling into question whose side heĺ─˘s really on.

The President promotes the funding of faith-based initiatives while, at the same time, endorsing medical or ĺ─˙evidence-basedĺ─¨ initiatives that push expensive and questionable psychiatric drugs. The latter approach often flies in the face of faith-professing Americans who advocate a more holistic and cost-effective approach to health care.

The Commission on Mental Health, part of President Bushĺ─˘s New Freedom Initiative (NFI), quietly issued its findings in July. Its recommendations purportedly ĺ─˙will enable adults with a serious mental illness and children with a serious emotional disturbance to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities.ĺ─¨ At issue, among other things: what criteria define ĺ─˙serious.ĺ─¨ For that matter, what defines mental illness?

The Commissionĺ─˘s conclusions were ironically unreported by the otherwise election-preoccupied national media. Among the proposals is a massive mental-health screening program that would begin with the nationĺ─˘s 52 million school children. Think thatĺ─˘s welcome news to parents? Theyĺ─˘re already concerned about why the Food and Drug Administration is monitoring a possible adolescent suicide link to certain antidepressants; plus, theyĺ─˘re fighting what they see as over-drugging of ADHD-labeled kids. The Illinois legislature has already passed such a screening measure; it has hoards of parents up in arms.

The Commission held up the scandal-ridden Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) as a ĺ─˙modelĺ─¨ medication treatment plan that ĺ─˙illustrates an evidence-based practice that results in better consumer outcomes.ĺ─¨ Better than what? Itĺ─˘s better for corporate coffers and government officialsĺ─˘ pockets. Patients are a valuable commodity.

The TMAP is big on the newer, pricey antipsychotic drugs ĺ─ţ the ones that make drug companies billions of dollars. Zyprexa, for example, accounts for more than one-third of Eli Lillyĺ─˘s total sales revenue. That drug and others in its class are responsible for virtually bankrupting state Medicaid funds. Big Pharmacy is big on contributing to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush, in particular, but also to John Kerry. And well they should be since 70 percent of Zyprexaĺ─˘s sales go to Medicaid programs.

This issue brings to light a different kind of political partisanship than we normally see. Democrats are more solidly behind the Bush mental health initiatives than Republicans are. Which party does the pharmaceutical lobby really own? Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, M.D. confronted his former governor and current President head-on by seeking on Sept. 9 to remove the mental-health screening provision from the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill before the House. The vote was 94 Republicans and one Democrat for his amendment and 118 Republicans and 196 Democrats (with one Independent) against. So much for civil liberties.

The real issue is who best knows how to care for the mentally ill and the emotionally wounded, who are also lumped into that category. Is Big Brother our keeper or do families know best? The truth is more drugs wonĺ─˘t cure what existing drugs canĺ─˘t. Science is far from having all the evidence cornered. People are whole beings, not neurotransmitters. Emotional care and support have long been a function of families and faith communities. Preventive health ministries and recovery programs, spread among the 350,000 or so religious congregations in the U.S., can be the best fiscally and morally responsible solution to the health care and insurance crisis.

The Presidentĺ─˘s Commission should have looked to another state for credible evidence of what works. If faith-based programs can reduce recidivism and behavior problems in prisons by as much as 70 percent, as is claimed by New Mexico, perhaps the entire mental health system should get on board. New Mexico is the first of a growing number of states to implement a recovery program inspired by Pastor Rick Warrenĺ─˘s Purpose-Driven Life ministry. President Bush, himself, acknowledged in a speech honoring the success of Warrenĺ─˘s Celebrate Recovery program, ĺ─˙government isnĺ─˘t good at changing hearts.ĺ─¨

Broken hearts or broken brains? Should government even target both? If itĺ─˘s Government vs. God, my moneyĺ─˘s on the Big Guy. President Bush may straddle the fence, but mandatory pill-pushing wonĺ─˘t endear him to many faith-professing voters.


Debbie Thurman is a family mental health advocate in Lynchburg, Va. She is the author of Outsmarting Depression: Surviving the Crossfire of the Mental Health Wars. Contact her at www.debbiethurman.com. Home