Help keep my beloved atheist alive?

Dear atheists,
I am writing in need of advice.. for help for a friend in need.
I have someone very dear to me who is of different beliefs. He is atheistic and I am spiritual and believe in a God. Let me assure you right away, the root of our problems is not this difference, as I never try to force my beliefs onto him. He has been though, with increasing frequency, trying to forcibly get me to renounce my own beliefs which I’m not feeling in my heart that I want to do. This is one of many things that have been coming out of him more lately.
He is increasingly depressed, irritable and short-tempered, and can barely have a normal conversation with me or anybody. Anything that is of “daily life” is insignificant to him. Conversations have been reduced to others asking questions and getting dismissive, one-word responses, most of which are very rude and indicate he wishes the conversation to be concluded.
He never had many interests or hobbies to begin with, but now the few that he had have been falling away too.
He also rejects psychology, as it’s all theory, so it’s on the same level of ridiculousness as religion. He’s got a rock-solid wall put up there. So don’t suggest he “seek professional help.” He doesn’t buy into it (nor do I.)

So what I am asking for your kind help with is, please, any pointers to reach the “soul” of an atheist who doesn’t believe in a soul or free will. One who in fact mocks me for bringing up such things? How to reason with someone that doesn’t believe in anything after death that death is not the only answer left to his worldly problems. How to show love for someone who doesn’t believe in love anymore? How to bring someone back from the edge of wanting to end it all.. to get him interested and involved in this life again.
It’s easier with my religious friends, there’s a “language” that can be used to keep one another going. He calls it brainwashing. I take offense but have learned to not argue against it anymore. My point is, if logic and reasoning are the “language” of atheism, then I am here to ask you atheists for help in how to use that language to convince him. Because in all honesty, I can’t think of how to logically and rationally explain why it would benefit a suffering, depressed person to stick around in this world when he so badly wants to leave and has nothing to fear about the consequences.

I care for this person very, very much. Truly want him to have a long, healthy, happy life and ask you please be respectful in your responses.

Posted: April 2nd 2013

Blaise www

Your description sounds, to my admittedly not-a-health-professional ears, like your friend’s problem has nothing to do with being a believer or a non-believer, and everything to do with clinical depression.

Your best bet seems like getting him to a counselor of some kind. If he is against psychologists, perhaps try with a psychiatrist, who holds a full medical degree, which might sway him to give it a chance.

Posted: April 8th 2013

See all questions answered by Blaise

George Locke

Your skepticism of the science of mental health does no one any good. The language of logic and reason is science, and I provide here a number of references to sound scientific studies demonstrating effective treatments for your friend. Mental health professionals can help your friend, and he ignores them at his peril. If you want to help your friend, you must get him to seek professional assistance.

Certainly there are quacks and blunders in psychiatry. Certainly the DSM-IV is a highly problematic document. There are many problems that remain to be solved, but the existence of problems does not imply that we know nothing. Do you think journals like The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice are a complete sham?

Your friend is clearly in need of professional help, and you are putting him at risk by supporting his hopelessness.

Science-based medicine is a well known group that applies scientific skepticism to medical practices, and they endorse psychiatry. Cochrane Reviews, described by Ben Goldacre as the “gold standard” of medical research, has plenty of research on the treatment of depression. I’ll point you to a few studies: Antidepressants versus placebo, Sertaline vs other antidepressants (note the PEARLS context: “both pharmacological and psychological interventions are effective for major depression”). Here’s a review showing the that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective in treating depression. I could pour on more references, but the fact of the matter is that psychiatry and psychotherapy are demonstrably effective tools in helping people like your friend. (I must add that I have seen the benefits of these myself though of course this is not convincing evidence.)

Please get your friend some professional help. Please.

I leave you with this quote from Science-based medicine.

The mental health professions have made some stunning errors in recent decades, including the recovered memory craze, Satanic abuse confabulations, facilitated communication, multiple personality disorder with up to a hundred or more alters including animals, and Harvard psychiatrist John Mack’s gullible speculations about alien abductions. The good news is that science and reason have worked to identify these as errors and they have been largely avoided in mainstream practice.

Science is harder to apply to psychiatry than to other medical disciplines. Mental illness can’t be studied like pneumonia. We have no good animal models for most mental illnesses because animals don’t mentate the way humans do. We can’t do a blood test for depression like we do for diabetes. But we certainly can identify patients who are impaired by a recognizable constellation of symptoms, and we can test various treatments to see what relieves those constellations of symptoms. We can also look for underlying causes and ways to prevent illness.

Modern psychiatry, with its psychotropic medications and psychotherapies, is not as scientific or as effective as we would like, but it has undeniably saved lives and improved the quality of life of countless sufferers. Instead of bashing psychiatry for its faults, we should build on psychiatry’s successes and make it ever more science-based. Let’s put an end to psychiatry-bashing and stick to bashing specific practices that are not science-based and to bashing psychiatric malpractice like over-diagnosis and inappropriate prescribing. There is an excellent journal that tries to do exactly that: The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.

Posted: April 4th 2013

See all questions answered by George Locke


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