Should a Christian take anti-depressants?

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One question I’ve seen raised so many times is about whether or not Christians should take anti-depressants.  It’s fascinating because I rarely here the question asked about taking Ibuprofen, or going to the hospital to get your leg put in plaster if you break it. Yet, there seems to be some uncertainty about medication for mental health issues.

The assumption behind this seems to be that when we talk about depression, we are primarily talking about a spiritual issue and that therefore, to depend on medication is to fail to depend upon God for healing.

I think that such an approach misunderstands the nature of depression and mental health.  It is true that there is a spiritual component to mental health.  Often when we describe the experience of anxiety and depression we are primarily talking about symptoms. We have not got to grips with the root cause.  Depression describes a set of symptoms, experienced physically that could be caused by any one or any combination of the following.

  • A specific, direct organic cause.
  • A consequence of another physical illness (e.g. if this leads to chronic pain, lost sleep, isolation etc)
  • Carrying guilt and pain as a result of things that you have done. In other words, there is a spiritual component. My own sin may bring consequences including depression or may exacerbate symptoms.
  • The consequences of what others have done to you  leading to pain, distress, shame. 

This means that there are three good reasons for taking medication. First, it may well be that your depression is directly related to a physical condition. So medication may well be the best way to treat that condition.

Secondly because you are experiencing painful symptoms, medication may alleviate those symptoms. Whilst the medication may not treat root causes, this does not mean it is a waste of time. We take painkillers and we bandage wounds not because we think this necessarily treats the cause of illness but because by alleviating pain and stemming the flow of blood we give the patient space in order to enable us to tackle the root cause.  Anti-depressants may sometimes work the same way.

Thirdly, anti-depressants may be helpful because sometimes depression is chronic and long term.  We don’t presume that people always get better/are healed from other chronic conditions. I’ve never been told that taking my asthma inhaler amounts to a lack of trust in God for example. So, in the same way, some people may need to take them longer term or at specific points in their life in order to keep functioning and to cope with long term pain.

What  I would encourage you to do if you are on anti-depressants is

  1. Continue to seek to identify potential root causes and address them. 
  2. Make sure you are fully informed about your medication and potential side effects.
  3. Be aware that as with many other medications there is the risk of addiction. Make sure that you regularly review your medication with your doctor.
  4. Don’t assume that all anti-depressants are the same and equal, Make sure you identify the medication that works best for you.

This article links to something I also wrote this week for Grace in the Depths which was a more personal account of my experience of antidepressants

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