Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 13, 2009

Faith and Depression

The connection between the Judeo-Christian concept of the soul (or the spirit) with the modern psychological concept of the self  is a tricky one.

As someone who suffers from depression, I often struggle with the question of whether I need medication — or how my emotional states should relate to my faith journey. Yet I don’t want to confuse the biological with the spiritual. They are linked, but also somewhat separate and distinct.

Without getting too technical, I believe modern medical science is finding fairly conclusive evidence that clinical depression is a chemical state of the brain which is hard-wired, or at least has a strong genetic pre-disposition. There’s a wide spectrum of effects and severity, of course. And behaviors, past experience, and attitudes do matter quite a lot. But the psychological, social and spiritual parts of  depression do need to be separated from the scientific or medical. It’s an illness — not much different than diabetes, arthritis or other biological phenomena… so that alone should help remove some of the negative stigma that many people (God-fearing or otherwise) still attach to depression as an illness.

God has the power to change it all directly, of course. Yet in helping us to deal with real life (whether it’s humdrum or chaotic), His preferred course of treatment for depressives most often is to give us drug therapy. This medically-based approach is taken when necessary… but that’s a sticky matter of interpretation, isn’t it? Who gets to decide on proper diagnosis and treatment, when the sickness is in the mind and not the thyroid? We are not always sure who to trust, as far as what symptoms or criteria should be used to decide, or as far as exploring what the source or severity of the illness actually is. However, I’m afraid I have no suggestions to offer on this problem… I’m more stuck on it than most, in fact.

So why drugs? Because among other things, the alternative “medications” people choose on their own (alcohol, recreational drugs, or various other compulsions and addictions) are often so self-destructive, that legitimate medicine really needs to be granted a role in helping to curb our natural (unnatural?) tendencies. We sometimes need to be “weaned” from the much more foul and destructive things we use to stand in for Prozac or Lexapro.

And then, by the way, there is God’s own comforting grace, in prayer and in fellowship (and perhaps in talk therapy that one pays for), all of which can work in combination to help alleviate the anxiety, shame, or other burdens that are a part of the depressive’s distinct package.

So let’s not give the nutty Tom Cruises of the world any more power than they already have(remember his Scientology-based comments, and his famous Oprah-fueled anti-medication feud, with post-partum depression sufferer Brooke Shields?) . Also, let’s not give atheist scientists or even well-intentioned agnostic truth-seekers any reason to believe that Christians don’t have a nuanced appreciation for good science and good medicine.

It *all* belongs to Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit. As do you and I. It’s no accident that most of Jesus’ greatest miracles were healings, medical miracles, showing the true hierarchy of godly Mind over earthly matter.



  1. I’ve always said that depression is a spiritual disease. A hard concept to grasp, but the best understanding I’ve come to it so far. Would know … have suffered many years of it 🙂

  2. We’re agreed on that point. Therefore, below is a re-posted comment from a counselor friend that addresses in a practical way both sides of the problem (the spiritual side, the disease side):

    I guess in an ideal (but broken) world we would consult all available doctors and sages.

    1) Check out
    Dr. Amen is an amazing scientist who has discerned dozens of different varieties of brain diseases related to anxiety and depression or some combination thereof. The amazing thing about this is how he can discern each different disease on a brain scan (PET scan). His theme is “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” I suggest whatever psychologist and / or psychiatrist you consult be familiar with this research. Generally they can target different diseases with a different combination of targeted medication and cognitive therapy (make sure they are skilled in cognitive therapy). The psychiatrist -psychologist collaboration would cover the part of this picture that is covered by science.

    2) A pastoral counselor (A.A.P.C.) who is also a spiritual director (S.D.I.) would be another component, for they would be familiar with the great spiritual direction texts of the past 2,000 years and would be there to accompany you on the spiritual journey.

    Posted by Rafiki on April 13, 2009 – Monday – 12:48 PM

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