Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Should Christians take Antidepressants?

I’ve written quite a few posts about psychological disorders on this blog but I have yet to talk about taking psychopharmaceuticals. Taking drugs like antidepressants seems to carry a stigma in general, anemia but especially in the Christian community. I think this is partly due to a lot of confusion about mental illness in general so in this post I want to try to demystify depression and anxiety and the medications that can be used to treat these disorders.

My first semester of my freshmen year in college I was struggling. I had just ended my way-too-rushed time at an eating disorder treatment program (just ended as in the day before I left for college), skincare I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and was experiencing intense, almost constant anxiety. It was also the semester I took Abnormal Psychology, a class that was all about the causes, treatments, and methods to diagnose psychological disorders. At times, the class was really difficult for me, not just academically but also emotionally. The day the professor lectured about anxiety disorders was really triggering for me and I was sitting in my chair tensely thinking, “I’m not going to make it.” But you know what? I did make it through that class and all the others that semester and it’s still one of my favorite college courses I’ve taken (that’s how you know you’re in the right academic field). In Abnormal Psych I learned a lot about a ton of mental disorders but I found that learning specifically about the neurological underpinnings of depression and anxiety disorders and how medications that treat these disorders work gave me a lot of clarity when it came to my own struggles. I’m going to share my super simplistic understanding of the things I learned in my Abnormal Psych class with the hope that it will be helpful for you, too!

There are neurological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to all psychological disorders. These include things like stressful family situations or life events (social factor), a tendency to focus on negativity or a heightened vigilance to threats in the environment (psychological), or abnormal brain areas, genetic influence, and an imbalance of neurotransmitters (neurological). All three of these factors interact together to lead to these psychological disorders. I feel like the social and psychological factors are more self-explanatory and easy to understand so this post focuses on the neurological causes and treatments.

Forgive me, this is going to be so simplified but my goal is to give you a small sense of what’s happening in the brain of a depressed or anxious person, not to enable to you pass a neuroscience class!

Here is a synapse:



Let’s pretend this is a serotonin synapse, meaning that this synapse is in charge of releasing the chemical serotonin to the receptor. Serotonin is a chemical that does a large variety of things for our bodies, including regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. Can you see why serotonin irregularities might have something to do with depression which is marked by symptoms such as depressed mood, low or increased appetite, and insomnia/sleeping all day? There are multiple neurotransmitters that are implicated in depression, including dopamine, but regulating those chemicals has not proven to be very effective in the treatment of depression. Serotonin irregularities are also found in anxiety disorders, which is why the same or very similar medication is used in the treatment of both anxiety and depressive disorders.

The most common drugs that are now used for the treatment of depression and anxiety are called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). How these work is that they slow down the reuptake of serotonin released from the synapse. In the diagram, do you see the little black dots labeled “neurotransmitter?” The serotonin is released from the synapse into the synaptic gap (the space between the synapse and the receptor) and then the receptor takes up that serotonin. SSRIs stop/slow the reabsorption of serotonin by the receptor meaning that the serotonin is floating around your system for a longer time, changing the balance of serotonin in your body, which helps lessen depression and anxiety. As said above, the same drugs are often prescribed for both anxiety and depression, with smaller doses prescribed for anxiety.

There are a lot of different categories of drugs used to treat anxiety and depression including SNRIs, TCAs, and MAOIs for depression and SNRIs and benzodiazepines for anxiety (there are a wide variety of anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and OCD which may require different medications). But all of these medications target different biological irregularities that influence depression and anxiety.

Why is all of this information important? Because I think many of us have this view of antidepressants as mysterious and possibly dangerous drugs that will alter who we are. And while changing our brain chemistry is no insignificant thing, I would submit to you that taking an SSRI for depression is not so different from taking Advil for a headache or Claratin for allergies or chemo drugs for cancer.

“But shouldn’t we trust that God will heal us of depression? Why should we take medications? Aren’t psychological disorders sin that should be dealt with like all other sin?”

My response would be this: Psychological disorders are NOT sin. If you are struggling with a psychological disorder, it is NOT your fault, it is NOT your choice, and it is NOT your sin. It is partly caused by very real things happening in your body. Do I believe God can heal us of depression? YES! Because I’ve seen him do it in my life. But who are we to say that God doesn’t want to use SSRIs and therapists to help us heal?

My story: Let’s go back to my first semester in college. Two of my therapists felt that I would be an excellent candidate for SSRIs and recommended that I try them. I had been struggling with depression for a long time at this point and hadn’t gone on an antidepressant because the thought of gave me such anxiety. It was learning about the neurology of depression and SSRIs that convinced me that taking antidepressants wasn’t as scary as I thought and could be hugely helpful to me. So I prayed about it and asked God if I should go on antidepressants or not and I felt like the Lord told me that he would support me either way and that it was up to me. So I decided to go on them. But the trouble was, I couldn’t find anyone to prescribe them to me! I couldn’t find a psychiatrist to meet with, the university doctors wouldn’t prescribe it, my psychologist wasn’t a psychiatrist so she couldn’t prescribe it, the university health services wouldn’t let me meet with a psychiatrist, and it just went on. It felt like everyday I was at therapy or with the nutritionist or doing weight-checks at university health services and fighting with health insurance. I was fighting so hard for my recovery that I ended up not having the time and energy to actually recover! So I finally decided that I wasn’t going to go on the antidepressants and God supported me in that decision and gave me tools to overcome my depression which I talk about in this post. The Lord was faithful to me and helped me overcome my depression, but I think that my recovery might have been easier had I been on an SSRI. There were a lot of times I wished I were on an antidepressant and if I could do it over again, I might have kept trying to get one prescribed for me.

If you are struggling with depression, an anxiety disorder, or any other psychological disorder, I pray that you would first be released from anyone or anything that says that your struggle is caused by your sin or that it’s your fault because it’s not. I also pray that you find community that will help carry you and support you through this tough season. I also recommend that you regularly meet with a therapist and then maybe consider trying psychotropic medications (with the guidance of your therapist/psychiatrist).* A whole combination of things contribute to psychological disorders and there are a whole combination of things that lead to recovery. And finally, I pray full healing over you in the name of Jesus! He is faithful and will bring you through.

*People who receive therapy and medication are more likely to have sustained recovery than people who just take medication. I always always recommend therapy.

When relapse happens

When Relapse Happens

Trigger warning: drugs, website addiction, decease relapse, herbal eating disorder, depression, anxiety

I was sitting in a cafe today, reading various theology essays for one of my classes while also listening to some music. I ended up turning on Macklemore, just needing to listen to something different. What I wasn’t expecting was to start tearing up right there in the coffee shop. I was listening to Starting Over off The Heist album and its honesty and vulnerability really struck me, as well as its connections to my own journey and story. Starting Over is, in a way, a follow up to his song Otherside, which Macklemore wrote about his journey to getting sober.

*Both of these songs have swear words*

Here is Otherside (this is the remix):

I’ve seen my people’s dreams die
I’ve seen what they can be denied
And “weeds not a drug” – that’s denial
Groundhog Day like repeat each time
I’ve seen Oxycontin take three lives
I grew up with them, we used to chief dimes
I’ve seen cocaine bring out the demons inside
Cheatin’ and lyin’
Friendship cease, no peace in the mind
Stealin’ and takin’ anything to fix the pieces inside
Broken, hopeless, headed nowhere
Only motivation for what the dealer’s supplying
That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinkin’ I would never do that, not that drug
And growing up nobody ever does
Until your stuck, lookin’ in the mirror like I can’t believe what I’ve become
Swore I was goin’ to be someone
And growing up everyone always does
We sell our dreams and our potential
To escape through that buzz
Just keep me up, keep me up
Hollywood here we come

And here is Starting Over:

Somebody stops me and says, “Are you Macklemore?
Maybe this isn’t the place or time
I just wanted to say that if it wasn’t for Otherside I wouldn’t have made it.”
I just look down at the ground and say thank you
She tells me she has 9 months and that she’s so grateful
Tears in her eyes, looking like she’s gonna cry. Fuck!
I barely got 48 hours, treated like I’m some wise monk
I wanna tell her I relapsed but I can’t
I just shake her hand and tell her congrats
Get back to my car and I think I’m tripping yea
Cuz God wrote Otherside, that pen was in my hand
Im just a flawed man, man I fucked up up
Like so many others I just never thought I would
I never thought I would, didn’t pick up the book
Doin it by myself, didn’t turn out that good

If I can be an example of getting sober
Then I can be an example of starting over
If I can be an example of getting sober
Then I can be an example of starting over

Whew that last line gets me every time. Otherside continues to help people get sober, and yet Starting Over is just as important because we all need reminders that our relapses are not the end of our stories.

My own personal journey is different from Macklemore’s. I’ve never struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, but I have struggled with an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. I am very open with people about my journey and about the freedom I have now in the Lord. But, at least for me, it’s really easy to get into the mindset that because I have freedom from these things, I will never relapse. And if I do relapse, then that must mean that I have failed in my freedom, I’ve failed God, and I’ve messed up my testimony. And that thinking makes it so difficult to be open with and share struggles that I still have.

There are days that I look at my body and I don’t feel like a new creation. My mind starts going and I fall back into eating disorder thoughts. 

After months of being depression free I experience another depressive episode and then another and I don’t want to admit that it’s actually depression.

Then out of nowhere I find myself triggered and my anxiety rushes back and I don’t know how to respond except to shut down.

God has been teaching me a lot about what it means to live in freedom.

–I’m starting to understand that to live in freedom means to live free of the shame that accompanies struggling.

–He’s teaching me that the sooner I can lean in to community and let people know that I’m hurting, the faster I experience freedom again because Satan operates in secrecy and darkness.

–And I’m learning that relapsing doesn’t change the fact that I am a new creation and that I live in Christ’s freedom. I belong to Jesus and Satan has no authority over me. My identity is freedom and that cannot be shaken or taken away from me. My relapses do not define me or change the fact that my story is about God’s continual faithfulness to me.

We need more stories of freedom from addiction and eating disorders and depression and trauma. But we also need more stories of people bravely starting over again.

Let’s keep writing our stories together, armed with grace and love for ourselves and the power of Christ.