Depression and Medication


(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:

More on this topic next week.


9 thoughts on “Depression and Medication

  1. Michael Kreger

    I think all pulpits should come equipped with a mechanical arm that delivers a slap to the face every time the speaker says “just.” The force of the slap would double after the fifth transgression. After the tenth transgression, the mechanical arm would ball its hand into a fist.

    It would be especially useful during those dreadful “form prayers” that are inflicted upon us.

    “Dear Lord and Heavenly Father, we just thank you for this day, Lord. And Lord, we are just so thankful, Lord, that we all arrived safely this morning, Lord.”

    And so forth.


  2. Glenda

    Mike brings a grin to my face! When my mother went through her last horrible episode of depression, back in the mid-60s, those shock treatments were the only thing that touched the right spot. I don’t know how the medical people decided where to put the electrodes, but they worked almost immediately, and after six of those treatments, she was able to be discharged from the mental hospital with a prescription for a med called Thorazine. I have not looked it up to see whether it’s even used any longer, but it certainly did help her to finish getting better, and we were REALLY happy to get our mother back!! As I have mentioned before, her main problem was keeping her concerns bottled up inside, and I think she learned how to express those to others so that we were able to give her some balance and prevent such a deep depression from occurring again. It was a learning time for the whole family, and I especially learned that it was not all spiritual!! My dear mother took time for her devotions every day, and was very well-versed in the Scriptures, but there was additional help needed, and we were thankful that it was available!


  3. Steve Ogren

    Hi Mrs. K. I came across your blog on facebook. Well done! I like it.

    I am sorry to hear about this valley that you are going through. You now have another former student praying for you. Praying that you will emerge stronger than when you entered the valley, and praying that this will give you a platform to effectively help those you see on a weekly basis.

    I am doing better now and I appreciated your listening ear when it seemed like the darkness would go on forever. I have a new appreciation and sensitivity for those struggling with depression. I am finally to the point where I am even grateful for the valley I went through. I am stronger because of it. I am more humble because of it. I am more aware of my need for Him because of it. Hard lessons to learn, but so necessary.

    I am glad to hear that you are taking some time off. I think that is a wise move. It is tough to give to others when you have nothing left in your tank. I will be praying for rejuvenation for you. For the joy of your salvation to return. And when it does, it will never be taken for granted again!



    1. Steve, thank you so much. This is kind of a “physician, heal thyself” experience for me. It’s pretty weird to be seeing depression from this side–to understand completely what has happened, and even what led up to it, and yet to be walking through it instead of helping someone else–well, yeah. Different.

      I’m so glad you’re feeling better. Been praying for you, hoping your silence was a good thing. You should be aware that the second time depression hits, it can be a lot worse than the first time. Precaution is important. The minute you become aware of the downward spiral is the moment you should get the help you need.

      I appreciate your prayers and your understanding, more than you know. Having former students who still care, stay in touch, and give me prayer support is one of the best rewards 🙂

      I’m also VERY excited that Ken, Sheila and kids are coming for Christmas! There’s always something to look forward to, something to be thankful for. And that’s the best cure there is.


  4. A good night’s sleep does help cure a lot of things. Glad you are doing better. I am slow on blog reading this week. We are sharing our Christmas this Saturday so this week has been what next week would be like! Deb and Gary are going to New York so spend Christmas with David. Katie and I have our plans here. My friend, Katie, is a treasure I do not take for granted.


  5. Pingback: Depression and the Bible – Study God's Word

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