Are Antidepressants Appropriate for Christians?

If you’re like many Christians who struggle with depression, you may wonder if taking antidepressant medication is appropriate. In other words, is it “against God’s will” or somehow “unspiritual” to do so? Is medication for depression a crutch or taking the easy way out? After all, aren’t we supposed to rely on God to lift us up during the dark times?

If you live with depression and find yourself asking these questions, you’re certainly not alone. Wrestling with feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness seems more like a sign of spiritual weakness rather than something that should be medicated. In fact, why is medication needed when you have faith in God? Can’t you just pray it away or rely on God to intervene?

While faith helps many of us get through those challenging times in life, depression is a disorder than often requires professional help. Treatment may include a prescription for symptom-relieving medication.

Before you reject the idea of taking an antidepressant, consider the following facts:

Depression is a serious medical condition.

Even our forefathers in faith dealt with feelings of depression and despair. Remember the Bible stories of Job, Moses, Elijah, and David? Each of these great pillars of faith battled depression at times. Struggling with the depression does not mean you are weak, unrepentant, unspiritual, out of fellowship with God, or somehow morally bankrupt.

Clinical depression is a psychiatric disorder that is often the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Neurotransmitters that help keep your mood stable, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, are broken down before they can be used by your brain. When they’re depleted or out of balance, it can lead to depression. You may experience symptoms ranging from troubled sleep to very serious thoughts of suicide.

Depression may be triggered by a variety of factors. For example, researchers have identified a gene that, when faulty, may cause depression to be passed down through generations [1]. Other things that may cause depression to develop include:

  • Serious illness, particularly chronic illness
  • Loss of a loved one or significant relationship
  • Certain medications, especially some kinds used to treat high blood pressure
  • Substance abuse
  • Current or past abuse (physical, psychological, or sexual)
  • Chronic stress
  • Other significant losses or major life transitions

Just as you’d visit a doctor to mend a broken bone, a mental health professional is uniquely trained to treat depression. He or she will have the expertise to assess your condition and recommend a range of treatment options, which may include antidepressant medication.

Antidepressants help restore chemical imbalances.

“The human spirit can endure sickness, but who can bear a crushed spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14). Even if you’re hesitant to take these prescription drugs, the fact is that not taking them can be more dangerous to your spirit and, in the most serious cases, your life.

Antidepressants are not addictive. They won’t numb your mind or transform you into a virtual zombie. In fact, a person who feels that way on medication is likely taking the wrong medication or the wrong dosage. What an antidepressant will help restore an imbalance in your brain chemistry – which is likely playing a significant role in your symptoms.

There are four primary types of antidepressant medications: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), and TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants). Each of these work in a very similar manner; they prevent your brain’s chemical messengers, like serotonin and others – ones that help regulate your mood – from being reabsorbed (which causes an imbalance). This process helps to ease your symptoms of depression. When you’re not feeling depressed it’s much easier for you to go about living life fully.

Taking a medication under the supervision of a medical or mental health professional may give you the stability you need to go to work, care for family, and follow God’s plan for your life. In severe cases, antidepressants can even help save your life if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Even the most devout Christians can contemplate suicide if their depressive symptoms become severe enough.

Antidepressants are not a crutch-they’re a helping hand.

Even Isaiah understood the value of treating an illness with medication (Isaiah 38:21). The key thing to remember is that antidepressants aren’t crutches. Using them isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, they help give you a healthier mental foundation; one that allows you to function optimally and fulfill your purpose-and God’s.

Antidepressants aren’t right for everyone.

There’s a marked difference between feeling occasional guilt or sadness and feeling the symptoms of full-blown, debilitating depression. When feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or excessive guilt interfere with your ability to live the life God wants you to live, antidepressants might be an option. To find out, speak with a mental health professional able to assess you and determine a treatment path.

You have options for treating depression.

Medication is only one part of treating depression effectively. Most mental health professionals agree that a complete treatment plan includes a range of options for improving your mental, emotional, and physical health. Consider these other strategies for reducing symptoms:

Join a support group. Find a support network that’s focused on depression and related mental health disorders. As you connect with group members, you’ll feel less isolated. What’s more, by sharing your own experiences you also help other members of the support group deal with their own personal battles. By doing so you’re fulfilling the command: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).

Talk with your pastor or spiritual leader. While medication can help heal imbalances within the body, a pastor can guide you to healing the spirit. He or she will be an invaluable source of Christian-centered resources, like Bible studies or prayer groups.

Challenge negative thinking. When feelings of depression are weighing you down, it’s hard to form a realistic view of what’s going on. One way to re-think your emotions is to keep a journal of negative feelings. Whenever you feel symptoms of depression, write your thoughts down in a journal. During periods when the condition isn’t affecting you, review the journal. It allows you to take a more reasonable view of the trigger that caused the symptoms. For example, imagine you had written that your spouse was rude to you that day-so surely he doesn’t love you anymore. On review, you might realize his actions were more likely because he’d had a rough day or had just argued with his brother. The journal allows you to “re-write” the negative tapes that played in your head during the depression period.

Have a special prayer or verse. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are charged to “pray without ceasing.” Find a Bible verse or prayer that speaks strongly to you and recite it like a mantra when you start to feel symptoms of depression. This can help soothe your mind and lower the anxiety that sometimes triggers symptoms.

Get a workout. Yes, it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re busy with kids, jobs, and other responsibilities. But exercise actually generates the body’s own feel-good chemicals, acting as a natural, drug-free mood booster.

Do antidepressants clash with your Christian beliefs?

Depression is a serious disorder that has a negative impact on you – as well as your loved ones. Just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, it deserves attention from a qualified professional who’s trained to treat it. If your doctor or therapist recommends a treatment plan that includes an antidepressant, don’t immediately reject the idea. Talk with him or her about side effects and any other concerns you might have. Antidepressants may be just what you need to lift the dark cloud of depression so you can live fully and joyfully.