“you may have questions about whether Christians should take this or that. You get in that state, I assure you, you will take rat dung.” Pastor Tommy Nelson on his depression
Why the Stigma?
Let me start this post by saying this. When it comes to the issue of taking medication for depression…there are some Christians who believe in it, and those that do not.
I believe in them. And I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. That will require circumstances, experiences convincing beyond my control.
I have worked long enough in the ministry and therapeutic setting to see the amazing and beneficial results that they have had in the lives of the co-workers, students and clients that I have journeyed through life with.
I believe God has given scientists/doctors/researchers amazing minds to create some medications that can help.
As one friend says, “If someone is diabetic, they are going to take insulin…aren’t they?”
Or I tell my friends, “If you have a heart condition, you are going to the cardiologist, right?”
So what’s the stigma around mental health and medications in the Christian life? I’m not completely sure. There is some disconnect it seems. Or rather than disconnect, there is some inconsistency in how we pick and choose what areas of our lives we seek help on, and what areas we think we should be able to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
If God has gifted a researcher who can create helpful drugs, or a psychiatrist that can prescribe medications, why not seek their help?
If God has gifted general practitioners and therapists to walk along side of us in rough times, why not seek their help?
I’ve heard some people say to others who are deep in depression that they just need to read their Bibles more, or pray harder, or have better quiet times, or stop sinning. THAT HAS GOT TO STOP! Would you tell a cancer patient they should just pray harder, seek God more truthfully, and stop sinning? No, you would tell them to go see an oncologist and get into some chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment. At least I hope you would.
In the great book Depression and Hope: New Insights for Pastoral Counseling by Howard W. Stone, I think Stone does a great job of seeing why people hold views on both sides… but ultimately leads us back to why medication in the area of mental health should not be an issue for Christians. Stone says:
“Peter Breggin and Ginger Breggin, who are somewhat critical of the use of medications for the treatment of depression, believe that such drugs give people a message that they lack the ‘psychological or spiritual resources to triumph over [their] depression’ (1994, 200). Popping a pill to address spiritual desolation or taking medications to soothe ‘Anfechtungen’ certainly would avoid facing one’s spiritual struggles or wrestling with one’s faith. But the spiritual side of human beings is not separate from the physical side. If medication were available to ease severe back pain without making someone fuzzy-headed, it would make sense to use it–even if the severe pain could potentially be an avenue for deepening in the faith. If medications can help one to greet the day, to be more faithful followers of the Christ, to be more responsible in the day-to-day ministry to which each of us is called, then it seems to me that such medications are worthwhile. Drugs are no way to escape our demons, but they may help us meet our demons with clearer heads and lighter hearts” (pp. 101).
Dealing With It Firsthand
Until we have struggled with depression ourselves, helped someone walk through that season, or been in a relationship or family where someone struggles with it, then the reality is often far removed from one’s true understanding of just exactly how serious it can be. Instead, we play Monday morning, armchair quarterback, and give abstract principles, or methods of coping that don’t seriously get at the heart of the issue.
What I have come to believe is that those Christians who think we should not take medications for mental health issues will truly never “get it”, unless it strikes close to home.
And apparently it did for Pastor Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church.
Otherwise, what would move a man to speak on depression in abstract terms and talk about the importance of busy schedules in February of 2005, to talk about the devastation of depression in his own life and how medications helped save his life in March of 2007?
What person speaks adamantly against medications in 2005, but praise their benefit only two years later? I don’t know Tommy personally, but I would say experience…the realities of depression were no longer abstract thoughts from people sitting across from him, but hit close to home, devastating his life for a long period of time.
If you have time, listen to both chapel talks and look at the difference. If you don’t have time, just watch the second one. You will be hard pressed to find a more intimate and powerful look on how depression took over someone’s life in paralyzing ways.
A Descent Into Depression by Pastor Tommy Nelson. This was on February 15, 2005.
A Christian Looks at Depression: Pastor Tommy Nelson at Dallas Theological Seminary’s Chapel. This was on March 27, 2007.
“Fits of depression come over the most of us. Cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Charles Hadden Spurgeon from his sermon entitled, ‘When the Preacher is Downcast’. (HT: Necessary Therapy for the quote.)
I agree with Spurgeon, that at times in our lives we are “cast down.” Whether that strikes someone with clinical depression or another with several days of melancholy, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that it is real. And since it is real, we should use the avenues and resources available to us, whether that be in the form of medications, psychiatrists, therapy, etc.
What do you think about Christians taking medications for depression or mental health related issues?
Why are you against it? Why are you for it?
Do you have a personal story/experience to share about your own struggle with depression and how medications may have helped you?
Check out DJ Chuang’s amazing and honest post, Deconstructing Depression. Totally worth your time.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not to be a substitute for professional help or advice. Please consider seeking out professional help if you consider yourself to be at risk for depression.