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Pills or Plato: A Worldview Approach to Mental Health

There’s no question that life in the early twenty-first century has its challenges. We live with all the difficulties human beings have had since the Fall — death, diseases, misfortunes, relationship problems — and hosts of new ones. The economy is in the tank; many are either out of work or trying to tolerate intolerable jobs. Families are struggling, some breaking up.

And so it’s no surprise that from 1996 to 2006 the use of antidepressants in this country doubled. And there is every good reason to believe that in the past five years even more people are taking Prozac, Zoloft, and the like.

Now, if you need antidepressants, by all means take them. But psychiatrists and others are recognizing that not every problem should be solved with a pill.

As psychiatrist Dr. Norton Roitman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “We live in a fast-paced culture, so people think they can get rid of bad feelings just by swallowing. They think they don’t have to make an effort.” But effort is often what it takes.

And that’s why I was struck by a recent Washington Post article on “philosophical counselors” including Lou Marinoff. Marinoff is a philosophy professor City College of New York and author of Plato, Not Prozac: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems.

Lost a job? Marinoff suggests you read Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Depressed? Try some Jean Paul Sartre. Midlife crisis? Marinoff says Friedrich Neitzsche is for you.

The goal, he says, is to apply the world’s best thinking by the world’s best minds to our decisions, reflections, and feelings. In short, Marinoff and others are telling people to work on their worldviews.

In Plato, Not Prozac he writes, “By getting a handle on their personal philosophies of life, sometimes with the help of the great thinkers of the past, they build a framework for managing whatever they face and go into the next situation more solidly grounded and spiritually or philosophically whole.”

What Marinoff is saying is that we are better able to cope with life if we have a well-formed worldview. And I couldn’t agree more.

As Nancy Pearcey and I wrote in How Now Shall We Live, Christianity is “a comprehensive life system that answers all of humanity’s age-old questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Why is there sin and suffering? Is there a way out? Does life have meaning and purpose?”

While a Christian worldview is a lever for transforming culture, it is also an enormous personal comfort in times of suffering and distress. The fundamental answers to these questions don’t change when marriages struggle, sickness comes, or disaster strikes. And those answers are precisely the things that, through God’s grace, allow us to cope and even flourish under adversity.

So the next time you’re feeling a bit blue, maybe it’s time for a good dose of worldview reading. And while reading Lao Tzu, Sartre, and Nietzsche may be useful for some, let me recommend Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and C.S. Lewis instead.

And you can find even more suggestions at BreakPoint.org, because a bracing dose of Christian worldview is good for what ails you.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: September 6, 2011.

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