I heard a statement yesterday, “depression is a disease. It is a sickness, a malady that needs to be treated, medicated if necessary, to minimize its effects on people.” To start with some numbers: depression affects 25 million Americans each year; 50 percent of the people who die from suicide suffer from major depression and if you add alcoholics the number rises to 75 percent; as many as 8 percent of those over 18 suffer from depression in a given year; and, more Americans suffer from depression than HIV/AIDS, cancer, or coronary heart disease. Depression leads to hopelessness and hopelessness is the strongest indicator of potential suicide risk. All that said, depression is the most treatable of all mind-related illness with 80-90 percent of those treated gaining some relief in reduction of symptoms and the resumption of some normalcy of life.
Why then do so many die from being depressed?
Like the statement I quoted above I agree that depression is a sickness. It is a sickness of the mind which categorizes it as a “mental sickness” and therefore it bears the weight of stigma associated with “mental illness.” In the minds of many “mental illness” means you are “crazy” and people who are depressed do not want to be lumped into that category. To admit you are depressed is considered by some to be the equivalent of being diagnosed with schizophrenia or some other clinical, psychological disorder which is simply not the case. Even though depression is a “mental sickness” it does not necessarily mean that you are classifiably “mentally ill.” However, I will acknowledge that severe, untreated depression can lead to a clinical diagnosis.
Denial is one of the largest complicating factors leading to non-treatment for depression. People who are depressed, in many instances do not think they are depressed. Given the numbers above and the fact that depression is very treatable, this would lead us to believe that there are a large number of people walking around depressed who are either in denial about being depressed or are refusing to admit that they are depressed because of the stigma attached to that diagnosis.
Depression can be caused by an imbalance of chemicals within the brain. However, other things can lead us to become depressed: major life events such as a death, job loss, or relationship issues; genetics; and even other medications. All of these events can affect the chemical balance of the brain leading to symptomology of depression.
As a Christian who counsels others going through tough times in their lives I have heard numerous times from people, “I don’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life” OR “I don’t think God would want me on medication” OR “I don’t want to take medication that messes with my mind.” From the discussions I have had I would hazard a guess that a large number of those in denial about depression are probably sitting beside you on Sunday morning in your regular church service. I want to address depression from a Christian point of view and challenge some of the assumptions being made by these Christians in denial about their depression. I am not a depression expert; but, I can speak from experience, both personal and professional.
Statement 1: “I don’t want to be on medication for the rest of my life.” Since depression is a chemical imbalance within the brain there is the possibility, if your depression is genetic, that you could need the anti-depressant medication for the rest of your life in order to maintain that fix to your brain chemistry. If your depression is caused by life events or other medications there is the possibility that you would not need to remain on the medication for the rest of your life.
Statement 2: “I don’t think God would want me on medication.” This one always throws me for a loop because it implies a lack of faith in the omniscient and omnipotent powers of God. God has allowed man to develop medications to be used in all aspects of our lives. Anti-depressants are just another category of medicine. Do you take medicine for a cold? Do you take medicine for your blood pressure? Do you take aspirin for a headache? If the answer is yes to any of these then saying that God would not want you to take medication makes you a hypocrite.
Statement 3: “I don’t want to take medication that messes with my mind.” This one is kind of interesting. If you are suffering from depression the chemical imbalance in your brain is already messing with your mind. By taking anti-depressants you are actually fixing your mind by fixing that imbalance in your brain chemistry.
CAUTION: It is important to note at this point that if you begin taking, or are currently taking an anti-depressant for any reason NEVER stop taking that medication without the close guidance of a medical professional. Suddenly removing the medication controlling your depression can cause severe withdrawal reactions that can lead to a worsening of your depression which could lead to suicidal ideation.
Depression is an expected part of life. We see references to moods and behaviors throughout Scripture that would qualify as symptoms of depression today. Psalm 35:17-18, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Would it be safe to say that depression can stem from a broken heart or even from being “crushed in spirit”? Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” The word behind “dismay” means anxiety. In many instances anxiety and depression go hand in hand. Psalm 143:7-8, “Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Those who are depressed would say that “their spirit fails”. This verse screams to me someone who is desperate for the intervention of God into an anxious life situation.
And this is not limited to the Old Testament. Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” God calls everyone to Him with their burdens but we must read the continuation of this Scripture, Matthew 11:29, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The word “yoke” refers to a shared burden. A “yoke” is used to split the weight of work between TWO oxen and in this context we are being told to “yoke” ourselves to Christ and share our burden with Him. This does not mean that we should not take medicine. It simply means we should lean on Him in faith to walk with us through our challenges. We are to ABIDE in Him (John 15:4) and ABIDE is an active word meaning that we are to take actions ourselves in full faith that Christ is with us.
Taking medication for depression is not un-Biblical.
We need to raise awareness about depression in order to stem the tide of suicides and depression related illness and death. I encourage you to make yourself aware of depression and its symptoms and be ready to have those challenging talks with friends, family, and even yourself if you think you may be affected. There is no disgrace in asking for help.