Should Christians Take Antidepressants?
This month, the pharmacy services company Medco reported that in 2010, one in five American adults took a mental health prescription drug, a 22 percent increase since 2001. Antidepressant use by men is on the rise, but women still take more antidepressants than men, with 21 percent of women taking at least one antidepressant in 2010. I was one of those women.
When my twins were born four years ago, it didn't take long for us to realize I was struggling. Post-partum depression hits many women during the first year after childbirth. With the natural hormone swings after giving birth, it can be difficult to tell if a new mother is trying to adjust to new demands and sleep schedules or is clinically depressed. When my mother found me crying while running a bath for our oldest boy, it became obvious that I was struggling with the latter.
All it took was a quick visit to the ob-gyn. I remember being grateful I didn't have to work out psychiatrist appointments or introduce a new doctor to the problems. Instead, the ob-gyn wrote the prescription as we talked. It was so easy.
Getting off the drugs proved to be a bit more difficult. Each year I went to my check-up, determined that I would get a plan to step down. Each year, the doctor encouraged me to stay on the meds. Each year he said, "It's a really benign drug, there are no side effects. It helps take the edge off."
He wasn't quite accurate. Zoloft's website lists plenty of physical and psychological side effects. Besides the warnings, Zoloft was also made to treat a range of personality and depressive disorders, but post-partum depression is not on the list.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common antidepressants prescribed today. They work on the theory that depression is caused by the absorption of serotonin in the cells of the brain, leaving the synapses free of the needed chemical. The SSRI keeps serotonin from being reabsorbed, and the increase of that chemical in the body causes the mood to lift.
The use of antidepressants is not without controversy in the Christian community and beyond. Our knowledge of the brain has grown significantly in the past 20 years, but we still have a lot to learn. The theory on which these medicines are based could be completely misguided, and because the earliest SSRI, Paxil, is only 23 years old, we can't be completely sure of its long-term effects. Add to this the fact that primary care physicians—not licensed psychiatrists—are the main prescribers of these medicines, and the case against them gets stronger.
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