I have often been asked, “Pastor, is it ok for a Christian to see a psychiatrist or take psychotropic medication?” The short answer is, “Absolutely yes.” The longer answer requires making a few more biblical connections.
First, the curse of sin affects our whole person, body and soul alike. Though Jesus has delivered us from the guilt and power of sin through the gospel, we’re still waiting for him to return and make all things new. Until then, our bodies continue to experience the corruption of physical sickness and death, including various forms of mental illness. Mental illness never excuses sin. It does remind us to lean in with compassion, knowing some of our greatest sorrows in this life involve spiritual and physical components that cannot be neatly disentangled.
Second, modern medicine is a gift of common grace. The same God who causes the sun to shine on the evil and the good has given pharmaceutical researchers extraordinary wisdom to develop drugs that ameliorate the symptoms of mental illness. We do not have a definitive, biological explanation for why these drugs work in most cases. In that sense, psychotropics are very different from a prescription for high blood pressure or a bacterial infection. However, the symptom relief they afford is a tremendous gift of God’s mercy.
Third, we honor God when we gratefully receive the gift of medicine and use it in a way that pleases him. This is where I think some Christian get hung up. They do not want an antidepressant to become their functional savior, a chemical substitute for trusting God in the midst of darkness. That’s the right spiritual concern, but can lead to a wrong spiritual conclusion: “Either I take this medication, or I trust God.”
In reality, taking medication can be an important expression of trust in God, an act of humility whereby we receive a physical gift he created for our good and his glory. By taking the edge off a particular expression of mental suffering, psychotropic drugs can actually enable someone to engage with God and address the spiritual issues in play more effectively than they might be able to otherwise. Lean into the wisdom of what your primary care physician or psychiatrist recommends. Enlist the counsel of a mature Christian friend or pastor who can help you avoid using medication as an alternative to looking to Jesus for the comfort and consolation he alone can provide. Used wisely, psychotropic medicine is a means of grace from the God of grace.
I have been well served in navigating these issues by our friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF), particularly Dr. Mike Emlet. He gave two messages on the topic at the 2011 CCEF National Conference, “Understanding Labels and Diagnoses” and “Understanding Psychiatric Treatments,” which are available for purchase here.
Two of my favorite printed resources on the subject are available for free in our Bookshop. Chien-Sun Chen’s piece, “Six Fallacies to Avoid When Caring for People with Mental Disorders,” and Mike Emlet’s introductory work, “What’s in a Name? Understanding Psychiatric Diagnoses.” If you are interested in learning more, I would encourage you to pick up copies of these two articles on a Sunday morning.