Should we use antidepressants? And if so, when?

Should we use antidepressants? And if so, when?

Pursuing a Healthier Mental Health

The health of our minds “significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.”[1] When healthy, we should feel suitably to the circumstance, we should think soundly and be able to behave and interact appropriately. When we do this it is beneficial for us, good for others and glorifies God. However, our world is broken and corrupted by sin, therefore our mental health is broken too.

This doesn’t mean we are not sad, for example grieving for a short time when a pet dog dies is an appropriate response; however, grieving for years is probably not reflective of an appropriate response and stems from our brokenness.

So what do we do with this brokenness? We can deny it, we can run from it, we can wallow in it or alternatively we can have hope in Jesus through it. Having hope means we can pursue restoration of our brokenness ─ a healthier mental health.

Restoration is our goal and a subsequent question is: do antidepressants help or hinder us in achieving better mental health?


Antidepressants as a Means of God’s Grace

The reality is that antidepressants are proven to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Medicine is a provision of God’s grace to humanity. It is important to recognise the healing ministry of Jesus continues today and the natural means of healing such as modern medicine are not in contradiction to the supernatural. God can use antidepressants to play a part in the healing of those suffering from depression but not in the way we might think.

Antidepressants are vastly different from taking medicine such as antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to attack the cause of the infection by taking action on the bacteria cells while antidepressants don’t directly address the cause of the depression but instead seek only to manage the symptoms.

Taking antidepressants will not fix depression like taking antibiotics will fix an infection.


The Issues with Antidepressants

Antidepressants have some negative side-effects but the desired effects need to be evaluated. The aim is to shift the way we think by increasing the levels of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine) functioning in our brain which regulate a person’s mood. Only some people see an improvement in their symptoms from taking Antidepressants. [2]

It is known “that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals… experts have long wondered why, if depression were primarily the result of low levels of neurotransmitters, people don’t feel better as soon as levels of neurotransmitters increase.” [3] There are far more complexities to depression than a simple chemical imbalance. In some circumstances antidepressants can hinder achieving a better mental health because of its ‘numbing’ effects making it hard to address the root cause/s of the depression.


A Biblical Perspective

The Bible is silent on antidepressants but it is not silent on substances that alter our mind. Ephesians 5:18 urges us to not get drunk on alcohol. This is not moral policing for the sake of it but is grounded in a beneficial principle to human flourishing: In order to feel, think, behave and interact with others in an appropriate manner we need to be sober-minded, self-controlled and of a sound mind. Intoxication makes this at least very difficult and realistically impossible.

Similarly to antidepressants, alcohol acts on your brain’s neurotransmitters, the distinction being that alcohol is a depressant rather than a stimulant.

1 Peter 5:7-9 says to be “casting all your anxieties on him [God], because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

People have self-medicated with alcohol for centuries because of worries or stressors. We desire to intoxicate and numb ourselves in order to deal with it. However, this is conceding control to Satan. In Biblical times the temptation was to drink your troubles away. Today’s temptation is still the same: to medicate your worries away.

Today’s temptation is still the same: to medicate your worries away.

The Bible however does not command, ‘do not drink alcohol’, it says, “do not get drunk” (Eph 5:8), “be sober” (1 Thess 5:6) and “to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6) ─ this is an important distinction. If we consider antidepressants as being in the same category as alcohol, the Bible doesn’t prohibit the use of antidepressants, but instead commands us to “be sober”. There is nothing unbiblical about consuming something that has the potential to make you not sober but we need to recognise the risks of causing us to feel improperly, think irrationally, behave and interact inappropriately because we are not of a sound mind.


Under what circumstances should we medicate for depression?

I think the answer is quite subjective from person to person but first we need to realise antidepressants only addresses the symptoms and will not address the causes of depression. Antidepressants can have a numbing effect and lift the overall mood stabilising the symptoms of depression whereas psychotherapy such as counselling can get to the root causes. Processing our brokenness by addressing the causes is essential to a healthier mental health.

There are times when it is beneficial for a person’s long-term health to numb the pain and symptoms. For example when a person body is injured severely it might be necessary to put someone into an induced coma because the injuries sustained are threatening the survival of the patient. Similarly, I think that antidepressants are necessary in situations when the continuation of a person life is at risk, especially when suicide plans or attempts are made.

In cases where the symptoms are severe enough that it seems impossible to begin working through the root causes, antidepressants may help. The numbing effect may be what a person needs to have an elevated mood to take steps towards a restored mental health.

In some cases, antidepressants can hinder the ability to work through the root cause/s because of the aforementioned ‘numbing’ effect. Depression may be a sign that something in your life is not quite right, and, with the right help and support, you can make positive changes that improve your symptoms.

If you are considering antidepressants please think through the following:

  • Get help from a good and qualified counsellor or psychologist. If you have tried and it wasn’t helpful, find someone else who may have a different style that suits you better. Don’t give up. Psychotherapy or talk therapy can be imperative.
  • Make lifestyle changes, get sufficient sleep, eat more healthily and exercise regularly.
  • Surround yourself with friends and family. Spend more time with them even when you don’t feel like it. Talk to them about your struggles.
  • Most importantly, go to Jesus. Pray, read the bible and reflect on where you are finding your self-worth and personal identity.

If or when you are considering going on/off antidepressants, make sure it is with in consultation with you GP and other medical professionals.

Antidepressants may be God’s grace to us to help us process our brokenness but there is the risk it will unnecessarily numb us from the pain only making it harder to address the root cause/s of depression.


In a crisis please contact:
Life Line: 13 11 14
Suicide Line: 1300 651 251
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636


Sources:

[1] “A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.” http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/content/mental-pubs-w-whatmen-toc~mental-pubs-w-whatmen-what

[1] “A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.” http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/content/mental-pubs-w-whatmen-toc~mental-pubs-w-whatmen-what

[2] https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/depression/treatments-for-depression/medical-treatments-for-depression

[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression