At any age, depression is our most common form of mental illness in the Western World. It is found in every stage of mental illness from a temporary depression in a normal person who has suffered a great personal disappointment, to the deep suicidal depression of a psychotic. Neurotic or reactive depression lies between these two extremes. It is usually caused by some actual event in a person’s life, such as the loss of a loved one, collapse of a business endeavor, or a serious physical illness; but instead of the normal depression, grief, or mourning another would experience, with recovery in a few weeks, the depression stays for several months and can become so severe that the patient is incapacitated to the point that all he wants to do is curl up at home and withdraw from all outside human contact.

Signs and Symptoms

The early signs of depression are sadness of facial expression, loss of interest in work or leisure time activities (apathy and listlessness), restlessness and agitation with easy irritability, and expressions of low self-esteem, worthlessness, failure, hopelessness, shame, self-reproach, and guilt. Physical effects include generalized lethargy, loss of sexual interest, inability to get to sleep or stay asleep, early morning waking, physical fatigue after little effort, multiple complaints of bodily aches or pains, constipation and poor appetite leading to weight loss. As the depression gets worse, there will be severe slowing of thought processes, withdrawal first from social contacts and then even from close family members, total preoccupation with himself as revealed in his speech, marked lessening of all physical activity, and eventually loss of all communication and responsiveness.

Hope is the antidote to depression: hope in this life that things will be better tomorrow and hope for the future in everlasting life. The Christian believer has this hope. “For those who would regain or preserve health there is a lesson in the words of Scripture, ‘Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.’ Ephesians 5:18.

“Not through the excitement or oblivion produced by unnatural or unhealthful stimulants; not through indulgence of the lower appetites or passions, is to be found true healing or refreshment for the body or the soul. Among the sick are many who are without God and without hope. They suffer from ungratified desires, disordered passions, and the condemnation of their own consciences; they are losing their hold upon this life, and they have no prospect for the life to come. Let not the attendants upon the sick hope to benefit these patients by granting them frivolous, exciting indulgences. These have been the curse of their lives. The hungry, thirsting soul will continue to hunger and thirst so long as it seeks to find satisfaction here. Those who drink at the fountain of selfish pleasure are deceived. They mistake hilarity for strength, and when the excitement ends, their inspiration ends, and they are left to discontent and despondency.

“Abiding peace, true rest of spirit, has but one Source. It was of this that Christ spoke when He said, ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28. ‘Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.’ John 14:27. This peace is not something that He gives apart from Himself. It is in Christ, and we can receive it only by receiving Him.

“Christ is the wellspring of life. That which many need is to have a clearer knowledge of Him; they need to be patiently and kindly, yet earnestly, taught how the whole being may be thrown open to the healing agencies of heaven. When the sunlight of God’s love illuminates the darkened chambers of the soul, restless weariness and dissatisfaction will cease, and satisfying joys will give vigour to the mind and health and energy to the body.

“We are in a world of suffering. Difficulty, trial, and sorrow await us all along the way to the heavenly home. But there are many who make life’s burden doubly heavy by continually anticipating trouble. If they meet with adversity or disappointment they think that everything is going to ruin, that theirs is the hardest lot of all, that they are surely coming to want. They bring wretchedness upon themselves and cast a shadow upon all around them. Life itself becomes a burden to them. But it needn’t be thus. It will cost a determined effort to change the current of their thought. But the change can be made. Their happiness, both for this life and for the life to come, depends upon their fixing their minds upon cheerful things. Let them look away from the dark picture, which is imaginary, to the benefits which God has strewn in their pathway, and beyond these to the unseen and eternal.

“For every trial, God has provided help. When Israel in the desert came to the bitter waters of Marah, Moses cried unto the Lord. The Lord did not provide some new remedy; He called attention to that which was at hand. A shrub which He had created was to be cast into the fountain to make the water pure and sweet. When this was done, the people drank of the water and were refreshed. In every trial, if we seek Him, Christ will give us help. Our eyes will be opened to discern the healing promises recorded in His word. The Holy Spirit will teach us how to appropriate every blessing that will be an antidote to grief. For every bitter draft that is placed to our lips, we shall find a branch of healing.” Ministry of Healing, pp. 246-248

What the depressed one needs to do after letting go of his burden at the foot of the cross, is to seek to help others. In this way, he will change the focus away from himself and his own problems and learn to be a blessing for others – this makes a profound difference in the mental condition of many depressed people. Also music, both made by others or oneself has been a great help for depression. And last, but not least is exercise: anything that will cause the skin to “weep” – sweating will eliminate toxins from the system and perhaps be what the mind needs to throw off the depression. (Please refer to Lesson #6 on exercise.)

A Wonderful Herb

St. John’s Wort has recently come into the public eye as of great benefit for depression. Even the popular TV newsmagazine 20/20 has reported that the makers of Prozac may just go out of business if more people were to try this wonderful herb. There are other cleansing and healing herbs to strengthen and build up the body and mind which you will remember from the lesson Herbs and Rational Remedies. A loving God has provided so many things in the natural realm to benefit us; our faith can lay hold on Him who is the well-spring of life as we turn to the things that He has given us in nature.


Manic-depressive illnesses (formerly called manic-depressive psychoses) usually start in the twenties or early thirties and are characterized by severe mood swings. They are divided into three basic types: manic, depressive, and circular. The manic type patient has periods of excessive elation, irritability, talkativeness, flight of ideas and accelerated speech, and mental and physical activity. Between these episodes he may be quite normal or slightly depressed. The depressed type has only depressive episodes which are characterized by severely depressed mood and slowing down of mental and physical processes even leading to total withdrawal and stupor. Sometimes they may have anxiety and agitation. They also are usually quite normal between episodes. The commonest manic-depressive illness is the circular type which has alternating episodes of both mania and depression. The cycle may vary considerably in intensity, duration, and frequency, not only in different patients but in the same person at different times. The patient is usually well aware of what is going on, but so great is the influence of the mood, be it high or low, that events or reasoning have little effect in bringing him back to normality. It is a form of escape, an emotional divorce from reality. During mania he may feel wildly elated and will say and do whatever he feels like, however inappropriate or socially embarrassing. He may have brilliant ideas, make many telephone calls, squander money he does not have on things he does not need, write grandiose letters to the president and drive faster than is safe. His energy is limitless and he will wear out his family with worry over what he will do next. By contrast, when he eventually comes down from his high and becomes depressed, he will appear markedly sad and withdrawn, all activities will be slowed, he will lose his appetite and ability to sleep well. He may be in so much pain that he will develop ideas of dying and will need hospitalization as a suicidal risk. If the patient does not kill himself in his car when he is high or commit suicide when he is low, his prognosis is quite good if treated. St. John’s Wort, kelp, yarrow, gotu kola or in extreme cases when under a Doctor’s care, lithium carbonate have all been effective ways to overcome the imbalance of manic-depression. Of course, faith to believe in a prayer-hearing God who wants us to find the balance of life and hope of eternal life, is of the essence for emotional, mental and spiritual health.


There can be many spiritual and emotional causes of mental disease; these must be first identified and dealt with to ensure that you get at the underlying cause. Hypoglycemia is almost always involved in schizophrenia and other mental diseases as well, possibly being one of the contributing causes, together with many dietary deficiencies and biochemical imbalances. The ultimate physical cause of schizophrenia and perhaps all other types of mental illness, is chronic undersupply of oxygen to the brain. Therefore, it is extremely important that the blood sugar level is kept constant at all times and not allowed to drop too low. Moderate meals throughout the day, with high quality slow-to-digest natural foods as snacks when needed. For example: buckwheat, millet, oats, brown rice, barley, etc., plus an abundance of whole raw and sprouted seeds and nuts. Almonds, peanuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are especially beneficial. (See anti-hypoglycemia diet in lesson on Hypoglycemia.)

An adequate amount of high quality protein is necessary, but complete proteins of vegetable origin are preferable to animal proteins. Soybeans, almonds, peanuts, buckwheat, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and all sprouted seeds, plus all vegetables and brewer’s yeast supply easily digested proteins of highest biological value. These foods are also rich in E and B vitamins, zinc, and other trace minerals needed by mental patients.

Peter: “In the hospital they serve me meat from the morgue and poisoned food. My medicine is really LSD. If I smoke a cigarette, a friend will die.”

Martha: “God told me I was going to have Christ’s baby. He told me to walk with a cane. Then He told me to swim in the ocean; I fought with monsters for eight hours.”

Mitch: “They say my grandfather died two years ago, but I know better. I talk to him every night. He comes into my room and floats above the bed. Someone turned him into a purple ball.”

Three schizophrenics. Three out of over 3 million.

Around 25 percent of all people hospitalized in America are hospitalized for schizophrenia. A hospital may be where they belong during a crisis but many schizophrenics can live fairly normal lives, especially if they maintain regular habits of life and follow the right nutritional guidelines. In schizophrenia, thought and perception are diseased, but the mind needs to be nourished properly – both physically and spiritually. You hallucinate, seeing what isn’t there and hearing voices when no one speaks. In a moderate case, you know you’re hallucinating. But when it’s worse, you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. Your thoughts are bizarre and illogical, perhaps paranoid, and you act on them. You might think you’re God. You could talk of suicide, and very possibly, commit it. Schizophrenics have a suicide rate about 20 times higher than the rest of the population.

A psychiatrist tries to keep a schizophrenic out of a coffin by putting him on a couch. He wants the schizophrenic to talk things over, and over, and over. Only in this way, he says, will the schizophrenic recognize and root out the cause of his disease: emotional trauma during childhood. But mommy and daddy aren’t always the villains the psychiatrist thinks. Studies show that psycho-analysis almost never cures a schizophrenic.

Instead, some are helped by having their brains stunned by electroshock therapy. Many others live somewhat normal lives by taking powerful drugs. Those treatments have drawbacks, of course. But they work because they affect a schizophrenic’s body. They work because schizophrenia is more than a mental illness.

Healing with Nutrition

The weird thoughts and strange perceptions of schizophrenia are often the symptoms of physical disorders. Disorders that can be healed with nutrition. Unlike the psychiatric approach, that’s not a theory. Thousands of schizophrenics have already been cured with a nutrient – niacin.

Niacin is one of the B complex vitamins – and one of the most important. A lack of niacin can cause severe skin rashes and digestive problems. It can also cause madness. Soon after processors of white flour began fortifying with niacin, 10 percent of all state hospital patients in the South were “cured.” They had been diagnosed as schizophrenics, but they actually had pellagra, the niacin deficiency disease. Some of the mental symptoms of pellagra – hallucinations and paranoia – perfectly mimic schizophrenia.

“If all the niacin were removed from our food, everyone would be psychotic in one year,” says Abram Hoffer, M.D., a psychiatrist in British Columbia. Dr. Hoffer was a pioneer in the nutritional treatment of schizophrenia. In 1952, he and a colleague gave niacin to eight schizophrenic patients. They immediately improved. Continuing the study, the doctors checked their patients’ progress for the next 15 years. All were well 15 years later – and all were still taking niacin (Orthomolecular Psychiatry).

Schizophrenia can last a lifetime, or a few weeks. Many patients walk out of state hospitals, only to return. To see if niacin could keep schizophrenics permanently out of hospitals, Dr. Hoffer gave 73 hospitalized schizophrenics niacin and compared them to 98 who were not taking niacin. During the next three years, only 7 of the niacin patients had to be readmitted to a hospital, while 46 of the non-niacin patients were readmitted (Lancet).

The patients Dr. Hoffer treated did not have pellagra. They had what he calls a “vitamin dependency”. A vitamin dependency, Dr. Hoffer explained to us, “is the need for a larger amount of a vitamin than most people require. If you don’t get that amount, you can suffer from a variety of physical and mental ills. Schizophrenia is one of them.

The dependency could be inherited. Or, if you were deprived of the nutrient over a long period of time, you might need more of it to function normally. Many of the mental patients with pellagra, for instance, had to take 600 milligrams of niacin every day for the rest of their lives. Most people need only 5 milligrams.

Niacin isn’t the only nutrient involved, however, Vitamin C is another. When a normal person is given 5 grams of vitamin C, his tissues are saturated – he can’t absorb any more. But studies show that it takes from 20 to 40 grams of vitamin C to saturate the tissues of schizophrenics. They don’t need that much to get better, though. A doctor gave 1 gram of vitamin C a day to 40 schizophrenics, all of whom had the disease for years. Many of them showed significant improvement.

Why vitamin C and niacin?

“Nobody knows for sure,” Dr. Hoffer told us. “The scientific community is only beginning to look at the relationship of these substances to mental functioning. But even if the role of nutrition in schizophrenia isn’t completely understood, there’s no doubt in my mind that the disease is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the body that can be corrected with proper nutrition. I’ve treated 4,000 cases of schizophrenia, and I haven’t ever seen one caused by psychological factors.”

Another doctor who believes that schizophrenia is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the body is Carl C. Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph. D., the director of the Brain Bio Center in Princeton, New Jersey.

Dr. Pfeiffer calls schizophrenia a “biochemical wastebasket.” Into that wastebasket, he says, have been thrown ten diseases, all of which were once thought to be schizophrenia (because their symptoms are identical to those of schizophrenia), but which are now classified as separate diseases with separate causes. Among them are brain syphilis, a thyroid disorder and a type of epilepsy.

Dr. Pfeiffer has turned that wastebasket into a filing cabinet. He believes that he has isolated the remaining biochemical abnormalities that cause schizophrenia. There are five, and nutrition can treat them all.

One of them is pyroluria. In this disease, a person eliminates abnormally large amounts of the chemical kryptopyrrole. Unfortunately, on its way out, kryptopyrrole grabs onto zinc and vitamin B-6, both of which are crucial to normal brain functioning. The result is very low body levels of those nutrients – and schizophrenia. The treatment, however, is simple: Replace B-6 and zinc. And the cure is almost automatic – 95 percent recover. Unless they’re taken off the nutrients. Then schizophrenia returns in two days.

“Thirty percent of all schizophrenics have pyroluria,” says Dr. Pfeiffer. And most of them are under 20. “Stress increases the amount of kryptopyrrole that is excreted,” he explained, “and people from the ages of 15 to 20 face the greatest levels of stress.”

Another 60 percent of schizophrenics suffer from a histamine disorder, according to Dr. Pfeiffer. Histamine, as any hay fever victim who takes antihistamines can tell you, is involved in allergic reactions. But that’s not all it’s involved in. “It would take a half hour to explain all of histamine’s functions in the body,” says Dr. Pfeiffer. And one of those functions is as a neurotransmitter, a chemical that relays information in the brain. But when histamine levels rise too high or dip too low, the brain can relay the wrong information: Your deceased uncle is standing in the corner; there’s a plot against you; you’re the savior of the world. In short, schizophrenia.

For schizophrenics with high histamine, Dr. Pfeiffer prescribes calcium, which lowers histamine levels and relieves the constant or frequent headaches that accompany the disorder. Along with calcium, he gives the minerals zinc and manganese. The treatment also includes the amino acid methionine. “This helps to lower blood histamine by a process known as methylation,” says Dr. Pfeiffer.

“For patients with low histamine, large doses of niacin and vitamin C are usually effective,” he explains. He also gives them zinc to lower their copper levels.

Too Much Copper

Studies show that schizophrenics often have high levels of copper in their blood and tissues. “Copper and zinc are biological antagonists. When one comes in, the other goes out,” says Dr. Pfeiffer.

“In our present environment we are saturated with copper,” he continues. “The main source is drinking water. Almost all water pipes are lined with copper, and it leaches into the water. If the water is very acid, such as well water, the copper levels will be very high. This copper in the water burdens the body in many ways. Schizophrenia is not the only problem associated with it. I believe it may also be a cause in miscarriage, birth defects, high blood pressure and depression.”

To prove his point, Dr. Pfeiffer cites a survey of drinking water in homes across the United States. Every home that had a level of copper in its water higher than the U.S. Public Health Service considers safe also had at least one family member with psychiatric problems (Journal of Applied Nutrition).

He also points out that dialysis, a procedure to cleanse a kidney patient’s blood, concentrates copper in the water used for cleansing. A problem associated with dialysis is madness and depression, a disease called “dialysis dementia.” Although opinions differ on the cause of dialysis dementia, a widely accepted theory says the problem is caused by copper overload.

Food Allergies Complicate Schizophrenia

The remaining 10 percent of schizophrenics, says Dr. Pfeiffer, have a cerebral allergy. In a cerebral allergy, a person has an allergic reaction to a commonly eaten food. But the reaction occurs in the brain – “hives of the brain,” as one researcher put it.

Dr. Pfeiffer isn’t the first scientist to recognize food allergy as a cause of schizophrenia. Gluten, a substance in wheat, oats, barley and rye, has long been thought to either cause or complicate schizophrenia. During World War II, when wheat and other cereals were rare in Greece, psychiatrists noted an improvement in the symptoms of schizophrenic patients. (Lancet).

One researcher took the gluten out of the diet of 14 schizophrenics, who began to improve. After a month, he put it back in – and they got worse. When, a month later, he took them off gluten again, their recovery continued (Science).

Hypoglycemia often complicates a schizophrenic disorder, says Dr. Pfeiffer. In hypoglycemia, brain levels of blood sugar plummet, causing mental problems that can include anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and paranoia. Many doctors believe that eating too much sugar and other refined carbohydrates can cause hypoglycemia. Could eating less sugar help cure schizophrenia?

“I have seen a large number of patients who had been much improved by other treatment, but who did not become well until they went onto a sugar-free diet,” says Dr. Hoffer.

Proper nutrition seems to be the best way to treat schizophrenia. Yet the American Psychiatric Association and the government’s National Institute of Mental Health have been “powerful opponents” of treating schizophrenia with nutrition. Why?

“Resistance is the typical medical reaction to all ideas that strike out on new therapeutic ground,” says Dr. Hoffer. “The attack on nutritional treatment is illogical, unjustified, extreme, emotional and not backed up by scientific evidence.”

It’s also deadly. Doctors estimate that the failure to properly treat schizophrenia causes more than 200 suicides a year, lives that could have been saved if they had received the correct nutrients.

Shots of endorphin – the body’s natural painkiller – have also been given to schizophrenics. Some scientists have theorized that a lack of endorphins in the brain might cause their bizarre behavior.

Nathan Kline, M.D., a New York psychiatrist, used endorphins to treat 15 patients, not only schizophrenics, but several depressed patients and a woman suffering from agoraphobia, a condition of intense, irrational fear in which she was afraid to walk to her car alone. The results were astonishing: Seven of the patients reported an improvement of mood that lasted several hours. Over the next few days, hallucinations faded and normal behavior returned in some (Archives of General Psychiatry).

Another doctor is using running as a therapy for one schizophrenic patient. Thaddeus Kostrubala, M.D., from Del Mar California, says that exercise has meant the difference between mental health and mental illness for this patient. “As long as he keeps up his running, there’s no trace of his disease visible in any kind of examination. But his symptoms come back very clearly if he stops running,” says Dr. Kostrubala. “He has a complete choice available to him. He can choose to be schizophrenic or well.”


The teacher, in his mid-sixties, went to the hospital with chest pain. Put under observation, he was given a drug for angina and high blood pressure. He woke up the next morning a changed man – but not changed for the better.

He hardly seemed to know he was in a hospital and denied he was sick. He babbled about things that had happened 20 years before. And after the brain specialists were through with him – finding his memory bad, his speech garbled and his intellect so muddled he could barely add two and two – they diagnosed him as senile.

A story like this usually has a sad ending – the nursing home. But in this case, the family didn’t accept the diagnosis. They insisted he wasn’t senile and convinced the doctors to take him off the drug he had received in the hospital. By the next day, he was thinking more clearly, and in two weeks his “senility” had disappeared.

That case isn’t a rarity. Perhaps 30 percent of the people diagnosed as senile, (or with some other form of mental illness) are in fact suffering from some other problem – a drug side effect, an infection, a hormone imbalance, a vitamin deficiency. “There are more than a hundred possible different conditions whose causes lead to symptoms that we mistakenly, tragically picture as senility,” wrote Arthur Freese, DDS, in his book The End of Senility.

Abram Hoffer, M.D., reported unpublished research that indicates a water deficiency can be an important cause of senile behavior. The problem begins when the thirst mechanism, like the senses of taste and smell, declines with increasing age. With inadequate water intake, the blood itself becomes dehydrated – thicker, with reduced circulation, making the brain an early and very susceptible target.

Drug Side Effects Can Mimic Senility

The typical elderly American takes from 4 to 7 different drugs every day, and perhaps as many as 13 different drugs a year. To complicate matters, the aging kidney is less able to rid the body of those drugs, and they can build up in the system. The end result can be a side effect (the elderly make up 11 percent of the population, but suffer more than 50 percent of all drug side effects). And some side effects – confusion, irritability, anxiety, slurred speech – mimic senility.

Which drugs cause the problem?

“Any drug can do it,” says Lissy Jarvik, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. And one drug often singled out by experts as a cause of reversible senility is digitalis, a drug prescribed for heart patients.

“The danger of giving digitalis to the elderly has received much attention in the past 20 years,” says a report in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (Nov.-Dec. 1979). The article goes on to describe four elderly people who suffered from “digitalis intoxication.”

One woman, who “before admission lived independently without mental impairment or depression, appeared depressed and lost her capacity for self-care” after one week on digitalis. After three weeks on the drug, “she was severely depressed, unmotivated and at times lethargic. She stated, ‘I have given up.’ ”

Another woman was “alert and cooperative” but became “anxious and restless” after two weeks on digitalis. After doctors took her off the drug, however, “she appeared relaxed and was resting comfortably.” In the next few days “her mental status” returned to normal.

The Worst Drugs of All

But digitalis isn’t the worst offender. Psychoactive drugs are. They include sedatives, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and the like. “It’s very easy to understand why psychoactive drugs can make you demented with chronic use,” says Dr. Besdine. “They interfere with neurotransmitters, the chemicals that regulate brain function. And they weaken coordination between the parts of the brain. These drugs have the potential to cause intellectual impairment in a person of any age, and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Old brains are the more sensitive to the confusion-inducing side effects of psychoactive drugs.”

In a study that bears out Dr. Besdine’s statement, 38 out of 236 patients over 65 who were hospitalized for “behavioral disturbances” were later found to be suffering from the side effects of psychoactive drugs (Journal of the American Medical Association, June 20, 1980).

What’s worse, older people with drug-caused reversible senility probably receive more psychoactive drugs to “cure” their condition. A professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine points out that a drug given to control drug-caused behavioral symptoms could worsen the symptoms – and lead to an increase in the amount of drugs (and, perhaps, a further worsening of the symptoms). That cycle isn’t only vicious – it’s tragic.

And an older person can overdose himself into senility on what is considered a normal and safe dosage of a psychoactive drug. As Dr. Freese warns, if Valium, (a so-called minor tranquilizer) is given to a man of 70 at the same dosage that is appropriate for a man of 30, it can “easily accumulate to an excessive degree, with serious mental side effects.”

“There are no minor tranquilizers for the elderly,” says Dr. Comfort. And he cautions physicians against prescribing sleeping pills for the “common later-life pattern of light sleep and frequent waking.”

Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.” Proverbs 3:24-26