(Second in the series of posts about depression, this was originally written on Dec. 7 , 2012. I’m recycling this series because I still get questions about this topic.)
This, believe me, is a very hot topic! There are many who object strongly to the use of antidepressants, claiming that they only mask the problem without resolving it. There is much to be said in their favor.
The other side of that argument is that true clinical depression comes with a depletion of, typically, serotonin. Serotonin is manufactured in the brain; also, we now know that about 85% of our serotonin is manufactured in the gut. That makes digestive health even more important than we thought. In any case, serotonin is one of the first chemicals we target in prescribing medication. There is a wealth of information on this topic all over the internet. I’m going to give you a link you can look at, and follow some of the links on that page to find out more. I do want to remind you that just because it’s on the internet that doesn’t mean every word is gospel truth 🙂 However, I have a lot of confidence in what I read on this site, and I do have a lot of study and experience behind me in this area.
There is a family of medications known as SSRI’s. These are the most commonly prescribed meds for depression. The letters stand for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. The theory behind the medication is that the serotonin manufactured in the brain is taken back up (reuptake) by the neurons before it can be properly processed. The result is a shortage of the chemical, resulting in a depressed mood. SSRI’s inhibit the reuptake. Commonly-known meds in this family are Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Prozac, and Effexor. There are several others.
There is an older family of medications, known as the Tricyclics, that are also very effective. They include amitriptyline (brand names Elavil, Endep) among others. Some doctors are finding that they actually work better than the SSRI’s for some people. The fact is, of course, that the pharmaceutical companies want to sell their newest “best” products, and the tricyclics pretty much got pushed into the corner when SSRI’s hit the market.
Probably the most controversial treatment for depression is electric shock therapy. Back in the day, it was pretty dreadful, often leaving the patient in a zombie-like condition. The good news today is that we know a lot more about where the mood centers of the brain are, and we can pinpoint them very specifically for treatment. Imaging technology has come a very long way, and there are fascinating studies about how the mood center shrinks and cools down during depression. The bad news about shock therapy is that it’s expensive, and not all insurances will cover it. Also, nothing is guaranteed to cure depression. We can do a lot, but we can’t do miracles.
So what about the spiritual aspect? As believers, should we even ever be depressed? Again, this is a very controversial topic. All I can do here is offer you what I’ve observed, experienced, and what I believe the Bible shows us.
First, I’d like to point out that there are many biblical characters who showed strong symptoms of depression. David said that he “wept all night upon his bed until his bones were dry” (Ps. 6:6). There are many other places in the Psalms that describe his depression. Jeremiah was “The Weeping Prophet.” Elijah needed God to put him in a cave near the brook Cherith and send him meat via a raven while he recovered his equanimity after a great spiritual victory and a threat from Jezebel. Jonah pouted under a vine after his success at Ninevah. The great Apostle Paul often shares his heart in a way that shows he understood depression; likewise, the Apostle John. And the words of Jesus Himself resonate for those of us who have experienced depression: “His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38).
Perhaps the greatest historical example, in the Christian realm, who suffered deep depressive episodes was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Abraham Lincoln, David Brainerd, Edgar Allen Poe, Earnest Hemingway. . . . the list is endless, really, including great artists and composers that we all admire.
Was there sin in the lives of all these people? Of course, except for Jesus; and the Bible tells us that there is nothing we experience that He hasn’t also experienced, and that there is deliverance (I Cor. 10:13). But was sin the one and only cause of their depression? I don’t think so. If that were the case, the solution would be so simple as to just confess, repent, and go on your happy way. No. I’ve seen too many godly, sincere believers suffering agonies of guilt because they’ve been told to “just trust the promises of God; just confess your sin and get forgiveness; just pull out of it!” The word just actually trivializes the depression, and the recipient of this well-meant advice often feels much worse for not being able to just get over it.
I can see that this topic needs more time and space.
Here’s the link I promised you: http://www.ehow.com/how_6174922_serotonin-levels-checked.html
More on this topic next week.