As Charlie’s depression and anxiety continued, and as we returned to England, it became clear that medication in the form of anti-depressants could help his ability to function and engage with the issues driving his struggles. It was during a conversation with a couple who have trodden a similar path, that we began to consider what this might mean and what we thought about it.
It’s been amazing to hear the differing views on anti-depressants, and sometimes amusing as people have spoken freely, without knowing that Charlie takes them!
Some people view them as a last resort if nothing else works, others the first thing to do when mental health issues strike as more of a quick fix. Some people take them but resent it; others don’t take them but are often wondering whether they should. Some think that taking medication avoids dealing with the real issues; others see that anxiety and depression are caused by many different things, and that medication may help a physiological need.
In Christian circles things can get even more confusing with some thinking that taking anti-depressants reflects a lack of faith in God to heal (may I suggest these people have probably never suffered with depression), or that they should only be taken as a stop-gap until real healing happens.
Some of these views are harmless, but others are quite dangerous, especially when they are espoused thoughtlessly to vulnerable people or to those who are desperately trying to do the right thing for their well-being.
So I would want to suggest that there is no ‘right thing’ – each person’s mental health reflects different needs, and must be supported accordingly, prayerfully, with listening to the wisdom of medics and therapists.
I do think it’s interesting that no one ever tells diabetes sufferers to stop taking their insulin, or to try to live without it and see how it goes. People take insulin daily to enable them to live a full and free life; they probably wouldn’t choose diabetes or daily injections, but in accepting the medication they are freed to engage fully in a life that they probably wouldn’t otherwise have – or at least would have a very different experience of. Similarly, some people will take antidepressants for life, and if it enables them to live fully into the life they have been given, then it would be ludicrous to ask them not to.
Whilst also acknowledging any other issues contributing to the mental health, and being committed to addressing them, the gift of medication of medication can be gratefully received.
Other people, those who perhaps don’t suffer from long term anxiety or depression, use antidepressants for a particular season in life. When we are run down, we take some painkillers, cold or flu relief, and heal the immediate symptoms. Once feeling a bit better, we may reflect on how we are living, and make some different choices to protect our well-being better, but that doesn’t negate the need for an immediate help to heal in order to make those choices. Similarly, some people need to take antidepressants for a period of time to enable them to reflect on life, make some choices, and strengthen themselves in other ways.
I think there can be a lot of guilt, feelings of inadequacy and failure, that face a person who decides to begin medication for mental health. And sometimes that is because of the opinions of others so generously dumped on top of them. But actually, I think taking medication gives agency to the sufferer, empowering them to act for their best interest.
It reveals a courage to accept life as it is being experienced, and a willingness to find another way. Used well, medication is another kind and loving gift from a good God who wants to make it possible for broken people to find freedom, one way or another.
Medication played a critical role in Charlie’s recovery, and still does. His taking medication gave us a chance to work on the struggles that fuelled the anxiety, depression and anger. It was a relief to see the impact on him and on our family life. I don’t know how long he will take them for, maybe forever, and that is fine by me. I see the daily pill as a gift given, and we gratefully receive it.