Maybe you’ve heard how someone has tried therapy and prayer but did not overcome depression until they tried medication or you’ve heard it made depression and anxiety worse.
So which is better? Prayer?
The answer...well, it’s complicated. As you read this article you may feel, at some point, that I am trying to persuade some to strongly consider taking mental health medications... I am. But only to those that clearly need them. You may also feel, at some point, that I am trying to discourage some from taking mental health medications... I am. But only those who clearly do not need them.
As a former minister (I am and always will be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, paid or unpaid) and a current mental health provider, hopefully, I will be able to bring some clarity to those in the big gray area.
First off, because of the stigma that is often associated with mental health disorders, let’s imagine you have a solely physical illness. Let’s say you have developed diabetes: Diabetes Mellitus Type-2 to be exact. Your genetics played a small role in the development of this disease. You’re experiencing severe pain in your feet, your eyesight is now blurry, you’re experiencing lightheadedness from hypoglycemia, and you now have a very high risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.
As severe as the symptoms have gotten you would probably strongly consider medication to help improve the symptoms. It would also make sense to correct your diet and lifestyle to bring true healing.
But do you even need the Medication at all?
Many would consider it wise, to take the diabetes medications to more quickly and effectively reduce your symptoms and your risk of premature death—more quickly and effectively than diet and lifestyle changes alone, that is. And what if you had Diabetes Mellitus Type-1? This is the type of diabetes that often begins at a younger age and the only treatment option is medication—insulin, to be exact.
So how do the treatments of these physical diseases compare with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and others? Quite closely, actually. There is often a genetic propensity toward a mental health disorder. Other factors such as divorce, abuse, job loss, experiencing trauma, losing a loved one, or even constant high levels of stress are often the factors that eventually push someone into a mental health disorder.
When this occurs, the answer to how to treat the disorder is often based on what caused the disorder and how severe it is. If the root cause of your anxiety and panic attacks are constant high levels of stress from an extremely demanding job then it only makes sense to focus on removing the stressor—finding another job. If the root cause of your depression is a failing marital relationship then couples counseling is the most appropriate treatment.
If your symptoms are minor and caused by correctable circumstances then I encourage you to consider therapy before considering medications.
However, if your depression or anxiety symptoms are severe or debilitating, regardless of the cause, then it would be reasonable to begin a medical treatment to more quickly improve symptoms while also working to correct the precipitating factor or underlying cause of the symptoms.
And just like Diabetes Mellitus type-1, the kind that is solely caused by genetics and requires insulin, there are mental health disorders that are not necessarily caused, to any large degree, by anything you’ve done or experienced but, instead, are primarily inherited genetically.
In these disorders, medical treatment becomes a bit more important or necessary in order to significantly improve the symptoms and without the medical treatment, the symptoms can often lead to a far less functional life and even to premature death. Two examples of disorders that most often require medical treatment in order to successfully manage symptoms are Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. But what about prayer and faith? Does taking mental health medications mean you lack faith in God? Should you just pray for healing from depression or anxiety or panic attacks or suicidal thoughts instead of taking medications?
My son was diagnosed with epilepsy a year ago after experiencing multiple seizures. He was prescribed a an anti-epileptic medication. At first, before my wife and I decided to begin giving it to him, we prayed for healing and guidance. We prayed... and we prayed... and we fasted... and we prayed. Eventually, as signs of nocturnal seizures continued, despite our prayers, we decided to begin the medication...and we continued to pray. And God brought healing. He brought healing through the medication. And now we praise God from whom all blessings flow. Healing, though it may come in various forms, is always from God as “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Could God heal my son without medications? Yes. I believe that without a doubt.
Does God choose to heal some directly and miraculously?
Yes. I believe that without a doubt. I’ve witnessed it. But God doesn’t always heal miraculously. Sometimes he heals through therapists and medical providers—though therapy and medicine. If you are battling depression or anxiety or any other mental health illness, prayer to and faith in God should always be a part of your treatment plan. Sometimes prayer to and faith in God is the only treatment necessary as healing comes directly from God. Sometimes prayer to and faith in God coupled with behavioral therapy is appropriate and God heals through the therapist. Sometimes prayer to and faith in God along with therapy and medications brings healing as God heals through therapy and medications. And when He heals through therapy and medications He is still the God “who comforts and encourages and refreshes and cheers the depressed and sinking”
(2 Corinthians 7:6). Thanks and praise be to God!
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Counselors Outside Rutherford
8 Locations across Middle Tennessee