Thursday, April 11, 2019

Is it Okay for Christians to Take Antidepressants?

I am NOT a healthcare professional and this material is NOT to be taken as medical advice. Please consult with your physician about any medications to see if they are right for you.

Years ago, if I was asked, "Is it okay for Christians to take antidepressants?" I would've answered that such medication is a cop-out. I thought, "Why put a substance in your body when you can simply seek God, pray, and take care of your body naturally?"

But God had a plan to knock me off my high horse when it came to my attitude toward medicating depression.

When I Thought Antidepressants Weren't For Christians

I once had a charismatic pastor who was adamantly against any form of anxiety or depression medication.
I believe his theory was that demonic spirits were the source of all mental health problems, and the only way to be victorious was through seeking Christ by meditating on Scriptures and prayer.

Fast forward a few years, I’m going through my biblical counseling program at a super small Bible college in Houston (it’s called the College of Biblical Studies, which I always thought was a testament to just how small it is). Several times throughout my program, my biblical counseling professor brought up this point: behavioral therapy is just as effective in treating anxiety and depression, and you get to avoid the negative side effects from the medication.

Between my pastor and my professor, I had it in my mind that taking antidepressants isn’t really effective and it just messes with your body. I’ve also heard many accounts of people being dependent on drugs for life. So even though I was aware I had been battling depression for some time, I was determined never to get on prescription meds.

The Catalyst That Changed My Perspective on Antidepressants

In October of 2018, I lost my unborn son. I went in for my normal 20-week checkup and found out my son didn’t have a heartbeat anymore. The next day I went into the hospital to be induced, and at around 5 the next morning I delivered my stillborn son.

After a few weeks of grieving, I decided to attend the open share group at my church’s Celebrate Recovery. When the group ended and I tried to get away quickly, a wise, godly friend of mine tracked me to check in on me. We then had an open discussion about my grief, but more so about my ongoing issues with depression.

My friend told me that the mind is just like any other organ of the body. If something is wrong with it, you treat it. She relayed her own experiences with anxiety and how medication really helped her manage it, and she was eventually able to wean herself off of the medication. She encouraged me to either talk to my physician about a prescription antidepressant or take natural supplements, such as St. John’s Wort and CBD oil.

After that tough but much-needed conversation, I knew that I needed to take antidepressants to give myself a fighting chance at managing my feelings of depression and loneliness.

The next day I reached out to my midwife (who was phenomenal in supporting me through my son’s death and delivery) and asked for an antidepressant prescription, to which she immediately agreed. 

The Pros & Cons from Taking my Antidepressants

It took several days for my prescription to come in, so in the meantime, I bought myself some St. John’s Wort and Vitamin B, and starting drinking a LOT of green tea (because I once read somewhere at sometime that green tea makes you feel happier). I felt like it was working, but once my medication came in I replaced St. John’s Wort with it. I wanted to take both, but I read several articles saying taking both can have severe negative consequences on one’s body.

When I started taking my antidepressant, I felt like I had a much clearer mind and a desire to actually get out of bed in the morning and live life a little. I started to find joy in taking better care of myself and my home. I also felt like I could actually grieve my son’s death, instead of ignoring my pain.

But I also experienced a few negative sides effects - the two big ones being drowsiness and nausea. I was able to offset the drowsiness by taking my medication at night. It honestly took a couple months for nausea to go away.

I do have friends who experienced little to no side effects when taking antidepressants. And for me personally, the benefits to my mental health outweighed the drag of the side effects.

If you are considering taking medication for anxiety or depression, I encourage you to make yourself aware of the side effects. My midwife told me the only side effect I may encounter would be decreased sex drive. 

I was very aware of the drowsiness and nausea I encountered as soon as I started taking the antidepressant, and when I did a simple internet search, sure enough, both of those were listed as common side effects to my medication. So besides talking to your physician, it would be beneficial to do some quick research yourself. 

Making the Decision to Take Antidepressants

Sometimes you know all the right things to do. You know you need to eat healthier, go outside, memorize uplifting Scriptures. You know if you could just talk a walk or call a friend you’d feel better. You are very aware of the good habits you need to do to get out of a depression mindset, but you just don’t have the strength to actually do them.

This was me on and off for years. After my encounter with my friend, I knew that the only way I would have the strength of mind to start good habits would be to take antidepressants. This was a big step for me because for so long I believed it was futile to take antidepressants.

While I am glad I took that step, I do wish I had tried the natural alternatives first, primarily because I believe they were working. 

I have started an attempt to wean off of the medication and switch over to St. John’s Wort, which has proven to be a bit of an endeavor. The first few days of lowering my dose, I had to combat some dark thoughts and temptations of unhealthy coping techniques. Thankfully, God brings to mind biblical affirmations to speak out loud, so utilizes His Word gives me hope for lowering my dosage. 

There is always the chance that I might have been able to save myself the headache had I just stuck with natural alternatives in the first place. However, I am content with my ultimate decision to use medication to help me with my depression for a time.

3 Pros of Antidepressants

  • Widely endorsed by the medical community as a treatment for depression
  • Often covered by insurance
  • Boost your serotonin levels (the happy chemical in your body), helping you to feel better and more motivated to take on healthy habits

3 Cons of Antidepressants

  • May cause unpleasant side effects
  • Could become dependent on them long-term
  • Can be tempting to use them to feel better, and then not using that newfound energy to start good habits (thus not having a plan to wean off, thus becoming dependent on them long-term)

Biblical Defense for Taking Antidepressants

1 Timothy 5:23
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

In this verse, Paul prescribed treatment for Timothy's stomach and ailments. God wants us to treat the physical problems we encounter when our body fails us. Our brains are simply another organ of our body. If our stomach or kidney or liver start to have issues, we don't doubt that we need to take measures to treat those issues. The same goes for our minds.

I believe God's Word supports treating depression. And yes, that treatment can include modern day medicine.

Avoiding Life-Long Dependence on Medication

A healthy diet and exercise decrease (emphasis on "decrease", meaning they don't necessarily eliminate!) one's chances of needing to take medication long-term for some kind of health issue. In the same way, healthy consumption of God's Word and truthful encouragement, as well as exercising awareness of your thoughts can decrease your chances of needing to medicate depression long-term.

One key practice that has drastically helped me in fighting off depression - speaking biblical affirmations out loud. I try to immediately recognize when a thought isn't of God (2 Cor. 10:5), and declare OUT LOUD a bible verse or biblical truth contradicting that thought. This simple action helps retrain my mind to be transformed and renewed (Rom. 12:2).

If you don't know where to start, click the image below to receive a printable list of 5 affirmations worth declaring daily.

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