During a class a couple weeks ago, my Intro to Pastoral Care and Counseling professor made a striking observation––our society has no problem with popping pain pills or taking medicine for physical ailments. However, the moment someone mentions taking meds for something like anxiety or depression, Christians often balk and quickly shut the idea down.
So, what’s the big issue? Some become wary of prescription drug abuse, but most believe people can fix their own mental illnesses. People think you just need to pray for God take the worries away and trust in him. Just stop worrying about stuff and you’ll be fine. Just stop becoming so sad when something goes wrong and you won’t fight the blues.
However, until you’ve actually battled some form of mental illness, you actually don’t understand how incredibly difficult it is to suddenly change your mind. However, biological factors such as genetics also play a role in both anxiety and depression.
Yes, self-help methods work, but they don’t always completely take care of the problem. Some people can treat their anxiety simply through breathing exercises, grounding techniques, stress-management techniques, journaling, etc;. Some people can treat their depression by hanging out with friends, talking with a therapist, turning pessimistic thoughts into optimistic thoughts, or doing an activity that brings them joy.
However, what happens when you have panic attacks that literally take the breath out of you and send you to the ER? What happens when you constantly tremble and your heart literally skips a beat every so often? What happens when you feel sad all the time for no apparent reason? What happens when you simply don’t feel like being around people and end up even worse?
That’s where medication can help. Rebounding from anxiety and depression becomes extremely difficult if you’ve endured it for quite a while without treatment like I did.
Medication can greatly help because it targets areas of the brain that help regulate mood. Once your mood improves, self-treatment techniques become much easier.
Here are three different types:
SSRIs help balance serotonin levels in the brain by decreasing serotonin in the brain and include sertraline, fluoxetine, citalopram, escitalopram, and fluvoxamine. Common brand names include Prozac, Celexa, and Zoloft.
SNRIs combat depression symptoms by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine and include desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, levomilnacipran, and venlafaxine. Common brand names include Cymbalta and Pristiq.
NDRIs target both norepinephrine and dopamine and include buproprion, Dexemethylphenidate, Duphenylprolinol,Methylphenidate, Methylendioxypyrovalerone, and Prolintane. Common brand names include Wellbutrin, Focalin, and Ritalin.
Where do I start?
How in the world do I know what medication to take? Ask your therapist for a referral to a psychiatrist (and if you don’t currently attend therapy, then start). After you see a psychiatrist for a couple of sessions, they can listen to your symptoms and struggles, formally diagnose you with a specific condition, and prescribe a specific medication for you.
Remain aware of possible side effects resulting from new medications and make sure you let your psychiatrist know how you respond to the medication. If you’re feeling more anxious or depressed, ask for a different medication. Once you find a medication that works, keep in mind it may take a couple weeks or so for it to kick in.
I currently take fluoxetine (20mg) for my anxiety and buproprion for my depression (100mg). I’m highly sensitive to medications due to my metabolism, so I take low doses of both. I started taking both medications in October last year.
Fluoxetine has forever changed my wellbeing. Before taking it, I was always shaky, felt on edge, was tired, had a heartbeat skip every now and then, always felt short of breath, and couldn’t concentrate because I was literally that anxious.
Now? I feel like myself again! It’s incredible! I’m happy, I laugh at things, I actually look people in the eye and hang out with my friends, I can concentrate in class and finish my homework, I feel more at peace, my breathing usually stays regular, and I hardly ever have panic attacks anymore.
As for the buproprion, it sometimes stimulates me a tad much and makes me a little spazzy, so I only take it every other day. However, I don’t have a constant cloud of sadness hovering over my head anymore.
Where do we go from here?
No, you don’t have to feel ashamed about taking medication. I was scared at first that people would call me crazy and that I was a horrible Christian because I couldn’t trust God with everything in my mind. However, now I understand I had something actually psychologically wrong with me and, once I corrected that, my spiritual life became much stronger. I now have an easier time trusting God with his plans for my life and worry less!
Church leaders, pastors, Christians….please realize it is okay and often necessary for some to take this medication. It does not mean they do not trust in God. Would you condemn someone who takes pain relievers for not believing God can take their pain away? No. Then don’t criticize people who need meds for mental illness. A pill can make all the difference between constant emotional breakdowns and great emotional health.