Is It Wrong for Christians to Take Psychiatric Medications?

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In some Christian circles, especially among fundamentalist Christians, there is an antipathy towards psychiatrists and, especially, taking psychiatric medications, which, at best, is regarded as unspiritual, and, at worst, is of the devil. I could not disagree more with those kinds of views toward medicine. I agree with Paul Meier’s (M.D.) approach to taking psychiatric medications. Since he is a Christian psychiatrist, his comments are worth quoting:

“[W]hen medication is needed — it’s needed. If our bodies aren’t producing the right chemicals in proper balance, we need to add medicines to restore order. Taking medical preparations is not a defeat of your faith or willpower. Remember: when the right drug is prescribed in the proper manner, consumption can be extremely valuable to your health. Medication is one of several God-given methods for coping with fear. If a medicine corrects a genetic chemical imbalance and helps you become a happier, more relaxed, more effective servant of God, not taking it would be a sin and a real shame. Pride makes us either want to do everything in our own strength or do nothing at all. Humility enables us to ask for the help of God, friends, Christians counselors, and sometimes even correctional medications.”1

There are many Christians who subscribe to Meier’s view about medicine and have profited from taking it. After all, God is not only concerned about bodily health but also mental health, including a healthy brain. For example, Frank Minirth (M.D.) writes,”Just as we are not critical of the individual on heart medication, neither should we be of individuals on antidepressants. Stress can damage not only the heart but also the brain, and not treating it would be cruel. God is not against medication or the physician who administers it appropriately.”2 Therefore, since it is reasonable to take medicine to aid in the healing of the organs of the body, then why is it not equally reasonable to heal one of the most vital organs in the body, namely, the human brain?

God, in the Christian world view, created the whole person and surely the proper functioning of the human brain matters to him. It should also matter to Christians.

Endnotes

  1. Stephen Arterburn, Paul Meier and Robert L. Wise, Fearless for Life: Break Free to Living with Hope and Confidence (Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002), pp. 132-133.
  2. Frank B. Minirth, In Pursuit of Happiness: Choices That Can Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI.: Fleming H. Revell/ Baker Book House Company, 2004), p. 45.

What is a Victorious Life?

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Making It across the Finish Line of Life

The Common Notion of “Victory”

What is a victorious life? The word “victory” itself suggests images of men and women winning a competition or an athletic game, such as soccer, basketball or a race in the Olympics. Victory also refers to winning the World Series or the Super Bowl. Of course, coming in first place is impressive, an outstanding achievement. However, I would like to discuss a different kind of notion of victory, which is living a victorious life. It is an achievement of the highest order and is equally, if nor more, impressive to the kinds of victories I have mentioned.

Endurance as a Form of Victory

If a person cannot overcome a problem by changing it, then enduring it should be seen as a victory. Enduring a chronic condition or disease, such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, is a victory. A person who has tragically lost the use of his or her arms and legs and endures such conditions, chooses to live victoriously.

Not-So-Obvious Forms of Victory

There are many other examples of victorious living, even though they may not be obvious to some people. Sometimes, just getting out of bed in the morning, especially if a person is prone to depression or hopelessness, is a victory. Completing a difficult day at work is a personal victory, because a man or woman has endured problems from the beginning to the end of the day. If someone is an alcoholic, not taking a sip of alcohol each day is a victory. If a person has social anxiety disorder, learning to be around other people is a victory. Failing a test and having the courage to take it again is a victory.

Different Staring Points for Measuring Victory

Thus, there are victorious men and women, both young and old, throughout society – indeed, throughout the world – provided that the understanding of “victorious” is inclusive, not exclusive. In life, as psychiatrist Viktor Frankl says, “[E]veryone has a different kind of start.”1 A person, then, is to be credited with a victory or, says Frankl, “an achievement,” perhaps even a greater achievement than others, because his or her “start is more difficult” or “fate” “less kind.”2

Therefore, victories belong not only to those who are radiant with health and have bodily strength but also to those who live with chronic conditions and psychological problems. For them, facing each new day is a challenge and completing it is a victory. Rather than viewing themselves as victims, they choose to be victors. They have, to borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich, “the courage to be.”

Endnotes

1. Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books/ Random House, 1986), p. 153.

2. Ibid.

Vincent van Gogh’s Depression: Medical-Moral Lessons

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Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night over the Rhône (1888), oil on canvas, 72.5 x 92 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. WikiArt.

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was both a beautiful person and a creative genius who suffered with bouts of depression. There are different medical opinions as to why he suffered from mental illness and, in particular, depression. For example, around 26 September 1883, he wrote to his brother Theo,

“I cannot hide from you that I am overcome by a feeling of great anxiety, depression, a je ne sais quoi [“I do not know what”] of discouragement and despair more than I can tell. And if I cannot find comfort, it will be too overwhelming.”

As an artist, he would often find comfort in his creativity. However, his depression and anxiety would return with greater frequency and, at times, intensity. Vincent was suffering, even to the point of harming himself. For example, on 23 December 1888, in a fit of anger, he took “a razor and cut off a portion of his left ear.” Because he himself knew that he was ill, he decided to commit himself to an asylum, attempting to get well. Roughly a years later, on 30 or 31 December 1889, he wrote about the incident, admitting,

“I assure you that last year I almost hated the idea of regaining my health – of only feeling somewhat better for a shorter or longer time – always living in fear of relapses – I almost hated the idea, I tell you – so little did I feel inclined to begin again. Often I said to myself that I preferred that there be nothing further, that this be the end. Ah well – it would seem that we are not the masters of this – of our existence – it seems that what matters is that one should learn to want to go on living, even when suffering. Oh, I feel so cowardly in this respect; even when my health has returned, I am still afraid.”

While he was grateful for his recovery, his suffering eventually became too much for him and on 27 July 1890, he attempted to take his own life, shooting himself in the chest. Two days later, he died. But despite the way he ended his life, his mental illness and character-flaws, he was beautiful. He was also successful, despite the fact that he was often plagued by thoughts of being a failure.

But note well: At the beginning of my article, I introduced Vincent van Gogh as a “person,” before I described his “condition.” The reason is that a person “is” always more than what he or she “has.” No condition or classification, whether it be in psychology, medicine or any other science, can remove from a person his or her humanity. Once a human person, always a human person. That is why Vincent was a person and so are all those who live with and suffer from depression.

That is also why health care workers, such as medical doctors and nurses, always treat a human being in treating his or her illness, whether it be mild or severe. The human “core,” that is, the essentially human, always remains intact, despite his or her mental or bodily illness.

May we in the West – who are so accustomed to classifying common traits or features of human beings and assigning “names” to those traits – not lose sight of the obvious, namely, that a human being, regardless of his or her condition, is and always remains a person.