Alex Jacobsen, a 26-year-old Iowa man suffering from mental exhaustion and anxiety, attempted suicide by cutting his throat with a box cutter 10 days after joining the Spencer Dream Center, a faith-based treatment program which required him to stop using his medication.
The program, which is run by Rev. Kevin Grimes and Rev. Nick Hanges, two pastors with the Assembly of God, purports to heal patients of “the emotional residue left by mental, physical and sexual abuse.” The Dream Center holds the idea of divine healing as a central tenant and prohibits the use of any mood-altering drugs, regardless of whether the patient has a prescription.
According to the Des Moines Register, when Jacobsen entered the program, he was required to stop taking his medication and was instead ‘prescribed’ bible-study, amino acids, and GABA supplements that the group claimed would reduce his anxiety.
Though the group does allow medical help and prescription drugs if necessary, Reverend Hanges actively discouraged Jacobsen from taking medication when he expressed fears relating to quitting his mood-stabilizers.
“Don’t back out of this again, man,” Hanges reportedly said to Jacobsen. “You won’t have that much alone time, trust me. This is what you need to do and you know that. I will help you get off the medications.”
When Jacobsen told Hanges he “wasn’t feeling right and was suicidal,” Hanges merely responded that the feelings would pass.
Hanges has no medical background, though he did receive a certification as a faith-based counselor by the International Institute of Faith-Based Counseling in Texas.
According to the medical professionals who treated him following his suicide attempt, Jacobsen could have died as a result of suddenly ceasing the use of his medication. He described experiencing insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts, all of which are indicative of withdrawal according to The Society for the Study of Addiction.
Jacobsen blames himself for the incident, claiming “Maybe I didn’t explain it to [Rev. Kevin Grimes] well enough.”
His father, on the other hand, holds the reverends heading the group responsible.
“They do not have the medical or psychological training to do what they’re doing,” he said.
Rev. Kevin Grimes admits that the he and Hanges did not understand the extent of Jacobsen’s issues and have changed the program’s rules accordingly.
Jacobsen’s father has called for the state of Iowa to add oversight to the proceedings of faith-based clinics, warning that without it, “this will happen to other families.”
Unfortunately, this oversight is unlikely to happen. Clinics like the Dream Center circumvent Iowa state laws, and are thus able to operate without licenses.