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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