Antidepressants for Believers?

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants?

By Pastor John Piper, given on March 30, 2010

The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants? I have been on them and have been accused of not relying on God.

That relates to an earlier question about how any physical or personal means that you use can signify that you’re not relying on God. So eating might be a failure to rely on God, because he might just fill your stomach by miracle, and you don’t have to eat. Or not sleeping would be a way of relying more on God, since you don’t have to have your psyche made stable by sleep at night. And so on.

God has ordained physical means. Aside from the ones that seem more natural, like food, there’s medicine: aspirin, Nyquil, etc. This water is helping my throat right now. [Sips it.] Was that sip a failure to rely on God?

Could be. “Just throw this away and rely on God! He will keep your throat moist. You don’t need to be drinking. You’re an idolater, Piper. You’re idolizing this because you’re depending on it.”

Well, the reason that’s not the case is because God has ordained for me to thank him for that. He created it and he made this body to need a lot of fluid. And it’s not a dishonor to him if I honor him through his gift.

Now the question is, “What medicines are like that or not like that?” Taking an aspirin?

My ophthalmologist told me about 4 years ago, “Take one baby aspirin a day and you will postpone cataracts or glaucoma or something.” He said, “I can see just the slightest little discoloration, and the way it works is that circulation helps.” So he told me to pop one of these little pills in my little vitamin thing. And I take it every day. And I just said, “Lord, whether I have eyes or not is totally dependent on you. But if you would like me to use this means, I would.”

My answer is that when you start working with peoples’ minds, you are in a very very tricky and difficult situation. But I think I want to say that, while nobody should hasten towards medication to alter their mental states—even as I say it I think of caffeine, right?—nevertheless, I know from reading history, like on William Cooper, and by dealing with many people over the years, that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.

Since that’s the case, physical means can be appropriate. For me it’s jogging. I produce stuff in my brain by jogging. But that might not work for somebody else, and they might be constantly unable to get on top of it emotionally. I just don’t want to rule out the possibility that there is a physical medication that just might, hopefully temporarily, enable them to get their equilibrium, process the truth, live out of the strength of the truth, honor God, and go off it.

When I preached on this one Easter Sunday a woman wrote me, thanking me that I took this approach. She said, “You just need to know that I live on these things, and I know what it was like 20 years ago and the horrors and the blackness of my life. And now I love Christ, I trust Christ, I love my husband, our marriage is preserved, and I’ll probably be on these till I’m dead.”

So I’m not in principle opposed. I just want to be very cautious in the way we use antidepressants.


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Should I Take Medication? by John Piper

What’s Your Take on Christians Using Antidepressants?

by John Piper

Pastor John Piper

In the end I’m going to say that there are times when I think it is appropriate, but I want to go there cautiously and slowly, with warnings.

Depression is a very complex thing. It’s got many layers. I think we all would agree that there are conditions in which nobody would deny that certain people are depressed in a pathological way, because they’re immobile. They’re not even able to function.

And then there’s a continuum of discouragements and wrestlings with having an ‘Eeyore-type’ personality, which may or many not be depressed.

So that means that I want to be so careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction. When you come into my office and describe to me your discouragements, I don’t want my first response to be, “See a doctor and get a prescription.”

I fear that is way too quick today. The number of people on antidepressants as a first course rather than a last course is large.

And the assumption is that you can’t make any progress in counseling unless you get yourself stabilized or something.

So I just want to be very cautious.

As a Christian who believes that Christ is given by the Holy Spirit to deliver us from discouragements and from unbelief and from sorrow and to help us live a life of usefulness, what makes me able to allow for antidepressants is the fact that medicine corresponds to physical realities.

And the physical realities are that we get headaches that make us almost unable to think. Migraine headaches can put a man out. And we are pretty much OK if the doctor can help us find some medicine that would not let us get these immobilizing headaches.

And the headaches clearly have a spiritual impact, because they’re making me unable to read my Bible and function in relation to people that I want to love and serve. And so medicine becomes spiritually effective in that way.

So we apply this principle that we all use to depression, and then the fact that the body is included in depression. Whether we should use the terms “chemical imbalances”—I’ve read both sides on that. Some people say that there is no scientific evidence for such a thing and others say that it is a given. Whatever. Everybody knows that there are physical dimensions to depression.

If that physical dimension could be helped by medicine—in the short run especially, sometimes long term—then I think, in God’s grace and mercy, we should take it as a gift from his hand.


© Desiring God, desiringGod.org

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.
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Becoming Manic: What You Can Do

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Top tips for coping

These are a list of things that people who have difficulties when they become high or manic have found helpful:

  • Try to get some sleep. Going without sleep has been shown to cause manic states and make them last longer.
  • Eat well. Don’t go without food or eat high energy food. Eat slowly.
  • Use relaxation techniques.  Quiet prayer works well right now.
  • Stay in bed even though you feel compelled to do lots of things.
  • Don’t act on your ideas. In a few days time you may see things completely differently.  Emailing friends now is dangerous. (I know).
  • Don’t buy anything expensive. Some people have found it helpful to give their credit cards/check book to friends.  (I tried to buy a 7 foot potted tree in London, UK once, because it was lonely.)
  • Use medication, herbal remedies, or other things that slow you down and/or help you sleep.  Think “speed bumps”.
  • Take relaxing (rather than high energy) exercise e.g. walking, swimming.  This is a must-do.
  • Make a plan for each day and keep to it. Don’t plan to do too much.
  • Try to do things slowly rather than quickly. Talk and walk consciously slower than you feel driven to.
  • Challenge any grandiose ideas you might have about yourself.  You must do this!
  • Reduce any pressures or stresses on you.
  • Cut out stimulants e.g. coffee, sugar, chocolate, fizzy drinks, alcohol. Some anti-depressants (e.g. the SSRIs like Prozac) can have stimulant-like effects – discuss this with your doctor and consider stopping them.

It may be helpful for you to make a plan about what to do before you get really elevated. You know yourself best, so build as many things into the plan that you feel will help you not do things you may later regret. It may be helpful to draw up a plan, and a list of ‘warning signs’, with a trusted friend or mental health professional at a time when you are not ‘high’, but that can be put into place as you or others notice your warning signs.

Some people believe that ‘getting manic’ is a response to not thinking about or facing things that might be quite frightening or depressing. It might be helpful to ‘get connected’ to such things, by talking and thinking about your life and some of the root causes of some unhappiness in your life. You could do this with a trusted friend or mental health professional.

 

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