What is the place of medication for anxiety or depression in the life of a Christian? Is it a sin to take medication to help me through a valley of emotional turmoil? If I decide to take medication for a limited time, does it mean I’m a failure or a “bad” Christian? Does it mean I don’t trust God? Is God displeased with me?
It is common for me to receive questions like these from believers who are struggling with emotions that feel out of control. In response, I help them to combat self-condemning thoughts by opening up the Scriptures. I seek to lead them to embrace the mystery of our creation as both body and soul and the unique interplay of the two. Additionally, I take them to examples of people in the Bible who fought against different levels of fear, and highlight the reality that not only is our physical frame custom-made by God, but so is our emotional makeup (see Ps. 139:13–14)! We are so amazingly designed by God that he should be exalted and praised—though the full interplay of our bodies and spirits, as well as the understanding of our beautiful and yet complicated emotions, remain mysterious to us. One thing is clear, however: we are always made up of body and soul . . . together . . . always. Regardless of what physical elements may contribute to our anxiety, every mental or emotional struggle we experience is also an opportunity to develop our faith. Our souls are always in need of the Spirit’s ministry of grace and truth through the Word. The biblical care of our soul is always a priority.
The following brief word about medication immediately follows a personal story, “When Panic Attacks Me,” which is found in the Introduction to my 31-day devotional, Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of a panic attack or broken heart syndrome [like I did in 2013], you should see your doctor right away for a thorough medical checkup in order to discover, or exclude, any physical problems that may be causing your symptoms of anxiety. The relationship between the body and soul is complex, and respecting medical counsel is wise. For some people, using a symptom-relieving medication for a limited time may help them to get control of their escalated emotional state. Others may find that the benefits of medication do not offset its side effects—or even that it has significant downsides.
For example, at one point [in my experience with panic attacks and broken heart syndrome], my physician believed that a short term use of anxiety medication might help to pull me through a crisis and prevent further damage. However, instead of calming down my anxiety so that my body could begin to repair itself, the medication increased it dramatically—producing a sense of terror, impending doom, and even a desire for death. We set the medication aside and agreed that major, life-altering decisions were necessary instead. In contrast, Bob, another counselor and minister of the gospel, was meaningfully helped by medicine. In his story, he says, “The medicine helped stabilize me so that I could think rationally and apply biblical principles to my situation.” [You can read Bob’s book-length testimony in Robert B. Somerville, If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed?]
Mental fog often accompanies severe anxiety. Therefore, any decision that you make concerning the use or non-use of medication must be well-informed, humbly bathed in prayer and clothed in counsel, and under the guidance and supervision of your personal physician.
Symptom-relieving medication is not the final answer or cure for anxiety. However, in the gracious providence of the Lord, it may prove to be an aid to some people–some of the time–to help them stabilize their emotions, thus assisting the ministry of biblical soul care to take hold in their heart. We need to be careful to not stand in judgment of one another, but leave room for Christian liberty (Rom. 14:1-12). When facing decisions that are not answered in a black-and-white manner in Scripture, we do our best to make wisdom calls. But, knowing our natural wisdom is unreliable, we need to seek the wisdom that God promises to give to us when we humble ourselves before Him in prayer (James 1:5), meditate on the Word (Ps. 1; 119:130), and seek counsel from godly, mature believers who have learned to model the balance of grace and truth found in Christ (Prov. 12:15; John 1:14).
If you or someone you love is battling anxiety, think about slowly working through my 31-day devotional, Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace. Consider reading through it together and discussing what the Spirit teaches you, as He graciously ministers stabilizing truth to your innermost being.
For further study on the subject of medication, I recommend two books written by Christian physicians who are also committed to biblical soul care:
- Charles D. Hodges, Good Mood, Bad Mood: Help and Hope for Depression and Bipolar Disorder (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2013)
- Michael R. Emlet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2017)