Faith Can Heal Depression But Don’t Stop Taking Your Meds

scientificamerican.comAt least once a month I get an email from someone who says she has read my blogs and she knows what I should do: rely on Jesus and let my faith heal me.

Now I know her heart is good and she speaks from a place of compassion. I know that because I recognize myself in her.

But it still ticks me off.

Because I am not a spiritual lightweight.

I take my faith pretty darn seriously.

I start my prayers every morning before my feet touch the ground. I have a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, and a master’s degree in theology. I flew halfway around the world to work with Mother Teresa when I was in graduate school. I have written 17 books on religion and spirituality. I read the entire Bible before my first pimple. I wanted to be a nun until I started sleeping with my husband.

Faith runs in my veins.

It is faith that saved me on that October afternoon in 2005 when I sat in my driveway with 30 bottles of drugs and demanded that God show me a sign that I was supposed to keep living.

But I know better than to stop taking my meds and rely on the power of Jesus.

I have tried that.

My husband found me curled up in a fetal position in our bedroom closet, unable to move.

There have been all kinds of studies that indicate that belief in God can improve mental health. For starters, religion provides a community, a social support that is key to wellbeing. Faith also attaches meaning to events. It attempts to answer the question “Why?” with stories of suffering (like the Book of Job) and redemption (like the life of Jesus). It provides hope, the most critical factor in healing from a mood disorder.

However, there exists this black-and-white, idiotic thinking when it comes to depression and faith: if you believe, then there is no need for treatment of your illness. Would people direct that same logic to conversations about rheumatoid arthritis?

I’m shocked by the stigma that exists in so many faith communities.

The other day, a reader wrote this as a comment to my blog, “Emerging From the Other Side of Depression”:

I am a Christian and I truly believe in Jesus Christ the son of God, and He has helped me through many dark times, but just as the diabetic, the heart patient, the patient with high blood pressure I must have medicine to treat my illness. Unfortunately, many pastors and other Christians say that I am on happy pills, never thinking how sad that makes those of us who struggle with this illness.

I know what she’s talking about, and, man oh man, is it frustrating.

When I was a sophomore at Saint Mary’s College, I went to a Mass in the chapel of one of the dorms on the campus of Notre Dame. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts at the time and had just agreed to start taking an antidepressant after fighting about it for a year and a half with my therapist.

“Psychologists’ offices are starting to replace confessionals,” the priest said. “We need to bring sin and spiritual warfare back to church, where they belong.”

I stood up and walked out.

When I hear a variation of it today in church, I walk out.

It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles.

I have witnessed the breathtaking line of crutches hanging over the grotto in Lourdes, France, a testament to all those crippled persons whose faith somehow allowed them to walk away. Recently a friend of mine was apparently “healed” of her depression during a prayer service and has been able to reduce her meds.

But my God is more high maintenance than that. He demands a little action and cooperation from me, much like the joke about the guy who dies in a flood despite his prayers for God’s rescue.

As the floodwaters rise, a man named Sam calls for God’s help.

First a neighbor offers him a ladder.

“Nope, my God is coming,” Sam replies.

Then the police arrive with a rescue boat. “Hop on board!” they instruct him.

“Thanks but no thanks,” Sam says, “God will save me.”

And finally the national guard provide a helicopter, and he tells them to go away, too.

Sam dies, goes to heaven, and asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”

“I sent a ladder, a lifeboat, and a helicopter…what more could I do?” says God.

Don’t be Sam.

Image: scientificamerican.com

Originally published on “Sanity Break” at EverydayHealth.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Faith Can Heal Depression But Don’t Stop Taking Your Meds

  1. There is no right answers to tell a person who has cancer or depress,
    Just giving a hug or hold hands is all one needs.

    Our depressed daughter is seeing her Shrink as she calls it. Her shrink has said she is absolutely fine & her problem is me who is toxic, bypolar & have a border line personality disorder. A Therapist with out seeing me can say so much? She even said I droped our daughter as a baby on her head that’s why she suffers from tram. She wants her to see her birth certificate because I must have been s teen mother & lying I had her at the age of 27. She asked her to cut us off from her life because we are no longer needed and evil. Saying bad things about her behind her back.
    The therapist is affiliated with a hospital in Maryland & is a councilor at a Christian school.

    Shanti Gee

  2. I once heard a priest say from the pulpit to his whole congregation, that if a woman was suffering from post-partum depression, she wasn’t praying hard enough. His words affected me for many years as I did suffer from untreated post partum depression. I am now dealing with chronic depression and anxiety. Thank you so much for all you are doing to help others. I am truly blessed to have found you.

    1. Judy, The priest at our parish has the same mentality. When he found out I was struggling with depression he stopped talking to me. Makes me feel a lot of shame.

  3. The projection of ones shadow blinds us
    We cannot see that it is our own fear coming to be
    Nowhere in the discussion is there room for
    dissention as there is only ONE right way to be

    I smile at those people who decide that they know
    what I should do, without walking my path
    knowing my hurts, or feeling my despair

    They truly mean well,
    but you can never tell
    those who know THE way
    the depths my hell
    that we live with and in
    Because it scares them to know
    that the WORD does not solve all
    of our problems and cares

    Therese,
    I love and support you and your courage.
    Your inspiration and ability to be vulnerable
    Is a shining light to many, including me!
    Happy New Year
    Jim

  4. My favorite saying, outside Bible verses, is “Pray, and row to shore”. Yes, I believe that God has provided for me through my psychiatrist and medications and friends, and family and support systems. But I would not be who I am today, nor where I am today had it not been for this illness and how it has changed me and my life. Of course, I would love a miraculous healing, but not if it meant I would be a different person. Many Blessings to you, Therese.

  5. Sharing the realities of my 20 year depression and my anger towards God for not healing me yet got me booted out of a women’s bible study group at my church last fall. I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough by the leader. It’s unfortunate this happened, because going to the group got me out of the house and connected with other people. I met some great women in this group and they became a great support system for me. Before going to the group I was severely depressed, isolated and struggling with suicidal thoughts. It’s unfortunate that I am alone again, because of so called Godly woman’s ignorance. The group support really motivated me and helped me get out of bed. The only person who had a problem with me speaking the truth about my journey with depression and God was the leader. The members welcomed my honesty.

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