Should Christians Take Antidepressants?

I try very hard on PhilipMeade.com to make arguments that clearly and hopefully effectively reach a final conclusion.  In other words, I don’t want my articles, even when dealing with difficult issues, to be ambiguous; I figure folks who are reading my blog have at least a partial interest in my opinion and it really does no good for anyone if I just flounder about.  I’m not always right and there may be times when I have to come back and say, “hey you know what, I was wrong on that one, here is why. . .”  Whereas the Bible will always be the only unchangeable authority in all issues of life and death, I recognize my human frailty in applying it correctly 100% of the time, especially in the finer, more acute issues in life.  I have a friend who has somewhat created a recognizable expression for himself as it relates to his writing – he is fond of saying “on the one hand, on the other hand.”  I don’t want to rip off his “go-to” line, but I think that phrase could be pertinent to this discussion.

I say all of that to say this:  This is a dimly lit area for me.  Below are a few things I think I can say with confidence.  How I should combine these convictions into a clear position on antidepressants is still in the air.  I welcome your thoughts.

1.  Christians should not desire an avoidance of suffering at all costs.  To be a Christian is to suffer.  It is part of the glorious calling on our lives and is part of the fruit of obedience for a soul saved by grace through faith.  Be cautious of any teacher, preacher, or friend who equates suffering only with sinful disobedience.  That is certainly a part of it.  But when Paul writes in Romans 5 that we are to “rejoice in our suffering”, he is referencing the discipling nature of suffering that produces an ongoing harvest of godliness.  Without suffering, we will not become the image of Jesus Christ.  So, Christians who are quick to jump on an available antidepressant because it might “make us not care” about difficult times is in and of itself not good enough.  Some will argue that unless a person is perfectly stable they will be unable to digest counseling and make progress.  I certainly don’t agree with that.  The first response for any Christian who is suffering from depression is to take a long, hard look at the depression and how God may be working through it for godliness. 

Now, having said that, it can also be the case that certain kinds of depression and suffering takes a greater toll on the physical body than other kinds.  If a person suffers consistently from, let’s say, migraine headaches, they will not be able to attend worship regularly.  In that case, their spiritual life is under attack because of the suffering.  If medicine can help with that problem and get them back into church, then wonderful.  Depression also takes its toll on the human body and if a prescription can help that person get back to reading their Bible, worshiping, and spending time with other Christians, then wonderful.  The hope then would be that those disciplines would soon make the prescription not as necessary.

2.  The issue of dependence.  Perhaps the bigger concern for me is where our dependence ultimately lies.  Because humans are humans, many will fall into an unhealthy dependence on a drug because they have experienced some success with it in the past.  Then, when moments of distress arrive, the first inclination is to the bottle and not to God Himself.  Although the Bible does not have an “anti-medicine” policy in place, it does have a “God first” policy.  In that sense, antidepressants can very, very quickly become an idolatrous love affair that smacks in the face of God as our first source for everything.  I believe most Christians are idol worshipers and most Christians, including the one writing this, do not realize the extent to which we are.  So, antidepressants and our relationship with God can co-exist, but we must be careful to continually re-evaluate to whom or what our heart most longs for.

3.  Consistent.  As Christians who embrace a biblical worldview, we want to be consistent in how we approach issues.  If my baby girl or boy suddenly and ferociously comes under a sweltering fever, I am rushing them to the hospital or doctor to get treated, regardless if that doctor is a Christian who places God at the forefront of their practice (I do recommend finding a Christian family doctor if possible, but that is not always an option, especially in times of emergency).  I have no problem with the use of medicine to enable us to live healthy, long lives.  That does not compromise my convictions of Scripture and God has and will work through even the lives of unbelievers to bring about His purposes and plans.  There are other things, however, that a doctor is not going to get to decide for me.  For example, Andi and I do not look to our pediatrician for advice on how to discipline, etc.  Then, there are areas in the middle and that is where antidepressants fall.  Some are arguing that depression is a non-organic condition that falls outside of the circle of bodily malfunction, that is to say, it is just a spiritual issue.  Others argue that depression is an organic, chemical issue.  I don’t know and really don’t care – I do know that depression can radically effect the body and cause very unhealthy conditions for that person’s spiritual life.  So, I don’t think I can make a blanket anti-antidepressant position without being inconsistent. 

In summary, the debate among Christians (and even the secular world is recognizing that we might be going to the bottle a bit too quickly) will not end anytime soon as to whether or not we should take antidepressants.  It seems that this is a very much person-by-person issue.  There could a person walk into my office who is depressed and the very last thing they need is a prescription.  Or, the reverse might be true. 

My best advice at this point is to not rush into a prescription, dive deep into prayer and Scripture to see what God might be saying, talk with a pastor who is sensitive to the issue, discuss the matter with your close friends, and always, always, always keep God as the priority in your decision making.  If it is a matter of trial and testing, then endure it!  Or, it might be time to visit your doctor and see what they can recommend.  At the end of the day, your godliness is what matters.  And I believe an antidepressant can both hurt or help that pursuit.  Ask God for wisdom.  He promises to give it.                                   

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4 Replies to “Should Christians Take Antidepressants?”

  1. Philip, I think you nailed it. Can I copy and paste this to my blog? :). Seriously, I’m so interested in this topic for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this in a comment instead of waiting until you get home. Love you!

    Andi (His wife, in case anyone is confused, or thinks this comment a bit awkward.)

    1. Since your opinion means more to me than anyone, I suddenly feel better about this article than I did 3 minutes ago.

  2. I have written an article about my own experience of mental health issues in the church which you may be interested in:

    Christian churches, depression and mental illness.

    Christians avoid suffering in other eareas so why not with depression? What bout pain during childbirth or palliative care in general?

    I am unsure why depression is signled out for special treatment by Christians, even over other mental illnesses.

    1. Gordon,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate your testimony and found it to contain helpful advice.

      To quickly answer your question about singeling out depression, I partially addressed that in my “consistent” paragraph. As I treid to convey, I don’t think depression should be placed in a category by itself. Yet, Christians are called to rejoice in suffering and expect it; a result of taking up our cross daily. Thus, any medication or treatment taken should never be divorced from our biblical worldview, and yet I believe, as I hope I made clear, that the two can certainly co-exist.

      Blessings
      PM

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