Suicide Attempt Raises Concerns About Faith-Based Healing

Alex Jacobsen was using prescription drugs for his psychological issues, but a pastor told him “medicine alone wasn’t going to be the answer” to his problems.

Faith-based treatments may help some people deal with their disorders and addictions, but one such program led a young man to the brink of death when it replaced his mood stabilizers with a bout of Bible study.

Alex Jacobsen, a 26-year-old suffering from anxiety and mental exhaustion, was feeling agitated and hopeless when he got his hands on a box cutter and drew the blade across his neck. Although at first he was careful not to break the skin, but something snapped inside of him and made him press the blade harder. He sliced his neck and throat.

The gruesome incident took place 10 days after he had admitted himself into a faith-based treatment program, the Dream Center, in Iowa. A pastor found him lying on the floor, called the paramedics, and tried to slow down the bleeding neck with a towel into it. The medical team arrived shortly, though if they were even five more minutes late, they said the patient would have died.

As The Des Moines Register reports, in 2014, Jacobsen was using prescription medicine for his mental illnesses when a reverend, Kevin Grimes, told him “medicine alone wasn’t going to be the answer” to his problems. Grimes is neither a doctor nor a medically trained professional.

In order to heal him through his faith in God and scripture, the reverend checked Jacobsen into a treatment program called Teen Challenge. However, the program was meant for drug addicts, and Jacobsen felt out of place. It was then that the Rev. Nick Hanges, a former addict who had moved in to Grimes’ church, introduced him to the Dream Center.

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The new program, run by two Assembly of God pastors, prohibited participants from using any sort of mood altering drugs, even prescribed. While the Assembly of God churches reportedly allow medical help and prescription drugs if necessary, the contract Jacobsen signed when he entered the Dream Center not only required him to stop taking his medication, but also stated the program would not be responsible for “any liability whatsoever arising as a result of death, injury or illness.”

Despite his family’s concerns, Jacobsen joined the program, though the sudden withdrawal of his medication led to insomnia and suicidal thoughts, subsequently driving him to try to take his own life. His father blames the reverends for their shortsightedness and questions the credibility of the treatment program that operates without any medically trained personnel on staff.

“They do not have the medical or psychological training to do what they’re doing,” the father told the Register. “If the state doesn’t require some sort of oversight, this will happen to other families.”

The International Institute of Faith-Based Counseling in Texas reportedly certified Hanges online as a faith-based Christian counselor. As for Grimes, he has since admitted that he did not understand the extent of Jacobsen’s psychological issues and claims to have made changes in the program.

The Society for the Study of Addiction states insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, psychosis and suicidal thoughts as symptoms of withdrawal, all of which Jacobsen reported having before his suicide attempt. He was lucky enough to be saved, but these programs could drive others to do the same and those people might not be as lucky.

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Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Joshua Lott

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