Anxiety, Depression and Medication | Hope in the Darkness

In my Psalm 88 message, Hope in the Darkness, I said this:

“Inner suffering is just as real as external suffering…Anxiety, depression and mental illness continue to bear a regrettable and unnecessary stigma.”

I then quoted Charles Spurgeon’s, a faithful man who suffered long bouts of depression, response to those who say mental illness isn’t as serious as physical illness, he says:

“The mind can descend far lower than the body. For [the mind] there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.”  He goes on to add this:“never ridicule the [depressed]; their pain is real. Though much of the evil lies in the imagination, it is not imaginary.”

In explaining why this gives us Hope in the Darkness I made the case that just as I never felt shame for my skin cancers or back injury, or my need for professional medical care – neither should someone feel shame for mental illness. The Scripture affirms that what we feel in the soul and mind is real.

Yet, one of the prevailing questions around mental health treatment is, “Is it Okay to take medication?”

The question is an important one AND a complicated one.  Allow me to lay a couple important facts out on the table:

  • I’m a Pastor, not a Psychiatrist. I’ve done a fair of counseling and have some graduate-level education in the practice, but I’m not a doctor or an expert on the brain or a licensed therapist.
  • This article will not be an in-depth analysis, but rather some concise guidelines from my experience and research.

So, to medicate or not to medicate?  It seems to me on the surface that there are two general problems in the mental health medication discussion:

  1. Mental Health is treated with an unnecessary and unfair stigma. If someone is diagnosed with cancer and their doctor recommends chemotherapy – no one questions the legitimacy of the need OR the practice.  If you break your arm and need pain medication it is highly unlikely that you will be subjected to scrutiny or judgment.  Yet, we speak with hushed tones and shame in regards to health problems with the brain.
  2. On the flip side though are those that rush to medicate without appropriate caution or counseling. I’m reminded of a King of Queens episode when Doug and Carrie take Arthur Spooner to a psychiatrist for medication.  They kept pressing the doctor to ‘just pull out that prescription pad’ and give them something to take the edge off.  This approach is equally dangerous as the first.

For Christians, there is a foundational lens through which we should view medication for mental health.  We must be careful to see medication as help, not hope.  It’s so easy to turn to medication – even therapy as the hope for our suffering, but Jesus and his redeeming love is where our hope must be steadfastly placed.  We know we’ve started seeing medication as hope instead of help when we begin to ignore the spiritual aspects of our battle.  We stop investing in community, instead, turning to isolation.  We stop praying for strength and wisdom, instead, we google solutions and just try to numb the pain.  We worship and enjoy God when things are good, but rarely when things are bad.

As in all health cases – physical or mental, caution and wisdom are essential in making medical judgments.  I recommend reading Ed Welch’s book Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness.  In it, he has a helpful chapter outlining guidelines for medical treatments, particularly antidepressant use.

I also recommend talking to a professional counselor AND your doctor.  Sometimes anxiety and depression are caused by physical issues such as chemical imbalances or hormonal issues.  However, other times anxiety or depression might be primarily related to spiritual and emotional problems that we need to fight through.

In short, do I think medication for a mental health reason is Okay? Absolutely yes. As Dr. Ed Welch says in his book, medication for mental health is ultimately a matter of wisdom, not of morality.  They can be helpful, they just shouldn’t be the primary source of our hope.

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