Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Depression, Christians, and Anti-Depressant Medication

Along with counseling or professional therapy to deal with the traumas associated with or causing depression, another crucial step in recovering from clinical depression is a consultation with a good doctor. (Note that by depression, I am referring to an illness, the symptoms of which generally include loss of interest in life, overwhelming sadness, obsessive fearful thoughts, fear that this bleak, distressing phase will never end, no hope for the future, and many other disturbing physical, emotional, mental and spiritual symptoms.)

During the consultation we need to tell the doctor exactly what we are going through, we must not play down the symptoms. We also need to tell the doctor if we have been plagued by any suicidal thoughts or urges. Many doctors have a special checklist of questions regarding depression that they go through in order to ascertain our condition.

The doctor should also investigate whether there are any health issues that could be causing the depression, such as food intolerances, and so on.

Should the doctor recommend anti-depressant medication, we should seriously consider following the recommendation, and if we do, we must remain under the doctor’s supervision by having regular checkups and always following the doctor’s advice. If we notice any unpleasant or disturbing side effects caused by the medication we need to consult with the doctor immediately.

We also need to ignore the stigmas and negative attitudes that are often associated with anti-depressants such as, “Anti-depressants are a cop-out,” or, “You say you trust in God yet you rely on anti-depressants?” or, “How can you say God is all you need when you need pills to cope with life?” One reason anti-depressants are criticized in Christian circles is because they are taken by people who are not depressed in order to cope with problems instead of facing and dealing with them. Many also fear they will become addicted to anti-depressants.

We should never feel guilty or inadequate for taking medication for depression, as clinical depression is an actual illness, and as an illness, needs to be treated. For example, I have complex partial epilepsy. If I do not take anti-seizure medication I suffer quite horrific seizures, cannot sleep, and am not permitted to drive. The medication I take stops the seizures, allows me to sleep, and I can drive. No one has ever criticized me or questioned the depth of my faith for my dependence on the medication.

Before I went onto anti-depressants, my diary entries were completely devoid of hope, full of pain, despair, anger, guilt, and confusion. I was not sleeping, and my mind had lost all flexibility.

25th March 1990 –
I feel like I’m in a room with invisible walls,
But it’s so black in the room that I can’t see through the walls.
And I am in the centre of the room.
Where I go, the room goes, I can’t get out.

The Christian counselor I was seeing told me during our first session that I should be on anti-depressants to help me cope with the illness. Here is the diary entry I wrote just before seeing the family doctor in 1990. We can see how my view of anti-depressants was dictated by fear and the stigmas attached to them by society.

I’m not coping with life at all. I don’t think I can cope with this lack of peace any longer. Tomorrow I’m going to see the doctor and get some pills that will give me peace. Tomorrow I’m going to take pills to help me cope with life, and it’s really hard. I feel like saying, “What happened to Your Word, Jesus, where You said You would comfort me?” But I know you are faithful and true, although I don’t understand, I must trust in you and fix my eyes on You through this storm.

The doctor gave me an anti-depressant medication that included a mild tranquilizer, and my counselor gave me practical advice on how to take them. She explained that the pills would knock me out for the first week, so for that week I should take them earlier, until my body got used to them. She said that they would start to take effect in around two weeks. (I understand that some anti-depressants may take from three to six weeks.) This is what I wrote after the medication began to take effect.

29th April 1990 –
A faint glimmer of hope,
It’s amazing, absolutely amazing.
It’s now been almost two weeks since I’ve wanted to end it.
The temptation is to deny ever feeling like that,
To say, ‘I can’t believe I felt like that.’
But it was true, very true, far too real.
All I wanted to do was die, or get away from the pain.
So I guess these tablets must be working.
I’ve been taking them for four weeks now.
I was told it would take two weeks before they would start to take effect,
And it did.

As we can see, the anti-depressants greatly reduced the effects of depression. They dulled the pain and enabled me to sleep, an important part of the healing process.

One point I would like to make very clear is that anti-depressants do not heal depression nor completely stop the pain. This was something I quickly realized:

13th May 1990 –
It is so hard,
The deep pain has gone, but I’m still a mess.

However, with the deep pain gone and the symptoms dulled, I was able to concentrate on the task of recovery. I was able to listen to the counselor and slowly change my perspective on the things that I feared, and also put into practice the techniques recommended by Doctor Claire Weekes in ‘Self Help for Your Nerves.’ I do not believe I would have been able to accomplish this without the medication.

Not including those individuals who need to remain on anti-depressants due to significant biological or mental disorders, when going onto anti-depressants we may need to remind ourselves that we do not take them to help us cope with life, but in order to concentrate on our goal of recovering from depression.

It may help to consider anti-depressants as a step in a race, with the prize being recovery from depression so we can achieve wholeness in Christ. ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.’ 1 Corinthians 9:24 Jesus wants us to be whole. ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ John 10:10. So let us press on towards recovery, never giving up. ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 3:14

We must not fear that we will become addicted to or dependent upon the anti-depressants. If recovery from depression is our goal, and we address the causes of depression through counseling or therapy, that will never be an issue. If we find ourselves wanting to remain indefinitely on anti-depressants, more counseling or professional help is needed.

In ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes writes, “Usually, when cured, the last thing these people want to see is one of those wretched capsules or a dose of that pink mixture.” (1)

When we feel we have recovered sufficiently to get off the anti-depressants, this must be done with the doctor’s supervision, as getting off the medication too quickly causes problems.

I reduced the dosage of my medication slowly over several weeks, under my doctor’s supervision, and I remember clearly the day I walked into a pharmacy and handed the pharmacist the box of remaining anti-depressants and said, “I don't need these anymore.” I was smiling when I walked out.

(1) ‘Self Help for Your Nerves,’ Doctor Claire Weekes, Angus & Robertston Publishers, 1989, p15.

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  1. Just excellent, Peter. I have been there too, and know your advice is sound, and your examples real and compelling. I know I say this every time, but thank you for this blog.

  2. What balance. You managed to find the balance between glorifying anti-depressants and condemning them. One of the ways you did this was by defining what depression is. I think one of the reasons that anti-depressants have received a "bad name" in Christian circles is that some people take them to cope with problems when they are not truly depressed. But they are an absolute necessity for those who are chemically or clinically depressed, and you struck the balance in that perfectly.

    "Consider anti-depressants as a step in the race, with the prize being recovery from depression so that we can achieve wholeness in Christ. Remember Jesus’ promise in John 10:10. ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ So let us press on to recovery, never giving up, until we experience this promise from Jesus. Philippians 3:14 ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’"

    THIS is the book you need to write, Peter. More people need to hear this God-given wisdom.

  3. Peter -- one important note to add: many people who struggle with anxiety (depression's close relative) have a fear of medication. My wife had to reach a point in her recovery to be able to start on Paxil ... previously she had been unable to take the meds because they scared her to death. Her recovery involved spiritual, physiological, emotional & psychological aspects. We wanted a "silver bullet", and many were suggested. In the end it was a slow process and the answers were all of the above.

  4. Thanks Jailer for mentioning the fear that many have with taking anti-depressant medications. There is so much bad publicity about the meds, especially due to many taking them when they do not need to, also due to the fear of addiction, and so on, that getting over this hurdle can be very difficult.

  5. This is EXCELLENT advice Peter. Thanks mate.

  6. Thanks Pete for sharing your journey. It gives others hope and what i love it that you are so real and transparent... more people need to be real about this stuff and not always expect others, just because they think they are strong, that you are, or that 'you'll get over this' blah blah blah. Some people need extra help to make it through parts of their lives.
    From Camille

  7. I have tried these types of medications, more than one and had horrible reactions to them. I know they work for some but they didn't for me- just made me very I'll physically, more anxious than when I started and that was on a pediatric dose! I love your blog- you SHOULD write a book and I m thankful for this information in your posts- the medication route is obviously not for me but I have new hope now that I've read all of the other information.

    1. Hi April-Lou,
      Thank you for sharing about your experiences with medications, sorry to hear that they made you worse :( I am also so glad to hear that the other information has been able to encourage you.
      May the Lord Jesus, our wonderful Shepherd, continue to guide and comfort you, and restore you to wholeness.
      God bless

  8. Christians having a depression is what validates my beleif and feeling that although God exists (I am a young Earth Creationist in this regard), He is not particularly involved with each one of us and "in this world we'll have trouble". Everything will be perfect when we die. Can't wait for it to happen.

  9. Dear John,
    thank you for your thoughts. And in response, please let me share some scriptures:

    "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me." John 10:14

    "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." John 10:27-28

    God is totally involved with each one of us, of that the Bible assures us. May I encourage you to seek Jesus with all of your heart, and never let any doubt get between a relationship with you and Him.

    God bless

  10. Peter, I’m one of those people who FEAR taking Antidepressants. I fear drugs period. I understand their advantage and the way you explained was perfect! Does not cure, but allows you to calm and lose the great fear in order to concentrate on teachings for recovery! Quick little story: I had face surgery to remove scars from an accident. Nurse walked in with 3 pills. I asked what are those? She said... Antibiotic... OK .. that s fine. I asked again what’s the second pill? She said anti inflammatory. OK .... and the last pill? She replied... Oh now THAT'S the Winger Dinger!!! Now as you all must know... PANIC hit. I was forced into taking it IF I wanted to proceed. After the fact: I sat there in Panic watching every little body sensation! Nothing ever happened... next thing I know surgery was over. I still felt groggy and to my surprise relaxed. Wow I put myself through hell. Now.. after the meds wore off, I was in GREAT pain. I refused to take my pain meds and suffered beyond imagination. THIS IS WHERE MY RELAPSE took place. I then had back issues that have escalated. Between the fear of meds and the chronic back pain and muscle tension, it all led me right into depression. So.... My point? If I had worked with my fears and taken my meds as needed, perhaps I would not have fallen into so much pain, anxiety and then depression. I still hate pills, but I’m slowly learning that they might just help. I understand fully about Anti depressants, and I only wish I didn't have a phobia against them, or any other meds. So.... Let me say this Dr. Claire Weekes DID say.... “You DO NOT have to be on pills to recover! Why buy the flowers when you can grow the seeds yourself?) BUT: as Peter said.... DO NOT SUFFER unnecessarily either. There is no wrong or right! Now.... stop giggling at me and press on!!! LOL LOL bronwenprsns@aol.com

    1. Hi Bronwyn,
      Thank you for sharing what you have been through, and your process of thoughts regarding medications. May I encourage you not to fear. Some meds do cause a negative reaction, but that's why it is important to take them under a doctor's supervision. They can suggest different types of meds to try until we find one that works, because they can be of great help to dull the pain so that we can concentrate on recovery, as you mentioned above. Note that some meds can take 6 weeks to have full effect.
      God bless

  11. I'm hoping others with depression are reading this blog... I've been a Christian for over 50 years. I've believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose again on the third day... I was raised in a Christian home. Here I am, in my mid 50's and depression is real. I first had depression about 8 years ago and it keeps gettin deeper and deeper. I am beginning to believe that depression is no longer fun. Ha ha
    I think we, as Christinas, should pray for others with depression... it is real and it hurts.
    I am on med's and quite frankly, I will stay on med's. My wife misses my smile and my laugh. My kids are worried about me. Quite frankly, I am worried about myself as well. This depression is terrible... The "grip" that it has in my life is amazing. I have given it to the Lord, and yet it is still there.
    Let's all pray for each other.

    1. Hi Jim,
      I agree wholeheartedly with you there, it's no fun at all. And also that Christians need to pray for those with depression, for it is one of the most devastating illnesses, and we need all the prayer we can get.

      I'm glad you are taking meds - please never worry about being on them. I praise God that He has helped doctors develop such medications to help sufferers like us. I spent 11 years on them the first time, and I have no idea how long I will remain on them this time. My doctor says I need to stay on them for life, and if so, I'm fine with that.

      God bless

    2. Thank you for your testimony. Praise God. I am praying that Jesus will lessen your pain. I know its hard but thank God we can put our faith in Jesus who is our rock.

  12. Hello Peter,

    Your blog has been such an inspiration to me. It has helped me see things in so many ways. I have struggled with depression for the past 6 years and finally hit a wall this last summer, with severe anxiety, insomnia and panic. After much hesitation and fear, I went to the doctor and found an antidepressant that worked and starting receiving Christian counseling. Praise the Lord I am on the road to recovery and have has a successful 6 months. I talked with my doctor and she agreed to start weening me off. I have been on a reduced dose for a week and half, but last night for the first time I had a lot of anxiety. I am uncertain if I a reducing the dose to soon, or if this is just adjustment period. Did you ever experience this?

    1. Dear Anonymous

      Thank you for your message, and for letting me know that this blog has been of help to you.

      Please do not feel any need to rush getting off the medication, it can take our nervous system a long time to recover from depression. So if the anxiety continues, please consult your doctor, but don't hesitate to go back to the dosage that helped you the most. I tried a few times to lower the dosage without success, but eventually was able to do so and then stop taking the meds altogether.

      God bless,

  13. Hi peter,
    I stumbled upon your blog because I am facing the difficult decision of deciding whether or not to take antidepressants.

    I'm twenty years old and from the time I was 14 (2009) until July 23 2013 I struggled with depression. It was crippling and what made it worse was that I didn't tell a soul. I threw on a happy face as best as I could and hid it from the world. I would lay in bed at night numb, not even able to feel sad. And in the middle of the day in would excuse myself to the bathroom to cry then practice a few smiles in the bathroom then carry on. It wasn't until toward the end of my depression that I finally opened up to friend. And she was extremely helpful she would pray for me and call me to check up on me whenever I seemed off. She invited me to go to an old fashioned tent revival. I grew up in a Christian home and my faith has always been the foundation on which I stand, even then I knew God was going to get me through it.

    I never experienced anything like it.
    I go to a Presbyterian Church and this tent revival was very Pentecostal. I loved it, completely different than anything that I have ever experienced but it was amazing. I went to an alter call and it felt like God came down from heaven and was wrapping his arms around me. The woman that prayed over me said things that I only ever told God. Things I cried out to God in desparation she answered. At the end she held my arms up over my head for me because I was so filled with the Holy Spirit I could barley stand, she said "Hold your hands up, because this is a sign of victory." Then she released my arms and I fell to my knees and cried.
    It felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders, like a fog had passed.

    Never had I experienced so much joy in all of my life. God had delivered me from my depression.
    From then on I sometimes I problems but my worse days after that were like my best days before it.
    Never ever have I returned to that dark place, until recently.

    I have a cousin who suffers from an extreme mental illness, they say it's manic-depression, but he also has horrible delusions.

    And one of his delusions is about me. He thinks I'm his wife and he has horrible, horrible delusions about me. He has told obscene things to my dad's employees about me.

    We understand he is sick and that he's not right, right now. Currently he is in a clinic to help him get better. But it seems like he is only getting worse. My dad told him that he is not aloud to look at me in that perverted way, and if he can't stop then he needs to stay away. So he did. Then a few days later I was driving home from work, in a storm and had to pick him up at the side of the road. He was a good 3 miles from where he's staying. When we asked him why he did that he said it was better for him to walk away before he hurt someone.

    The doctors said I'm his trigger anf that he'll do anything so I can be his. And in that moment I know he was talking about my dad.

    This whole situation has set me back I can't function. Along with the depression I have this fear that he is going to do something to me or my family who says he's not aloud to like me in that way. And no matter what I say the doctors say that he won't listen to me when I tell him it's wrong either.

    I was told to go to a counselor to get help and I plan on going but I was so afraid about the decision of taking antidepressants until I read this post.

    From my past experience I know that God can get me through this I have no doubt in my mind.But I feel like I can't focus on Him at times because I am so depressed, scared, and stressed. This post has really helped me. It gave me a new perspective on antidepressants.

    Thank You so much. You have no idea how much this has helped me.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      So glad to hear the post has been helpful. Sorry to hear of the difficult time you are having with your cousin. I believe that going to see a counsellor would be of great benefit to you as well, as others have recommended.

      I would also like to suggest that you get together with one or two close friends/members of your family, and cover your situation with prayer, asking God for His protection, and to use this situation for good in your lives. You may need to meet a few times, eg, weekly, until God breaks though the situation and brings you relief and His peace.

      God bless

  14. Glad to find this, since I am also struggling terribly with whether or not to go back on medication. I have also felt that I should just have more faith, and "snap myself out of this already". I also have a lot of fear about taking these medications for so many years since they really don't know the long term effects on the body and the brain. There are so many horror stories out there. I have just been driving myself crazy over this issue.

  15. Thank you for this comforting blog. I am 49 on my 3rd week of antidepressants. For panic disorder. 9 years ago I had a mental breakdown. And suffered much because I was afraid of meds. See I was pastor and leader in the church. Strength was my middle name. This time around I surrendered to being weak and receiving help much quicker from a doctor. Thanking God that He has me in His care. Don't be stubborn get help. I know 4 men in the last 4 years that have ended their life due to not reaching out for help. Peace. Shad

    1. Thanks Shad,
      And thank you for sharing the importance of getting help, and that there is no shame in it. I thank God for the help He gives us through health professionals and medications.
      God bless

  16. Now its been 5 weeks on paxil. I feel a lot better. My mornings are still a little difficult. I am talking to a great Counselor. Not everyone in church understand and that's ok with me.
    I just want to get the word out that many people can get help. I got Claire weekes book. It helped a lot. There is rest for us in Jesus. Psalm 37.7 rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Peter thank you very much. Shad from California.

    1. Hi Shad,,

      Thanks for sharing how the meds are helping and that getting helping works. That's a message we really need to get out there. So many Christians are hamstrung by the belief that anti-depressants are bad, or feel like they have failed in someway if they need to ask for help,

      God bless