Pastor Perry Noble of NewSpring Church in S.C. used to believe that anxiety and depression could be dealt with through prayer and scripture without resorting to medication. Now, however, he counts himself as one of the many people who depend on medication for the sake of their mental health.
In a blog published Monday titled "Should Christians Take Medication for Mental Illness?" Noble related his personal struggle with anxiety and delivered a ringing blow against the attitude that medication is something to be ashamed of.
The issue of mental health in the church was an important one in 2013, as two of America's most influential pastors both had sons who died from suicide. The deaths of Matthew Warren and Isaac Hunter sparked important conversations about how families and church communities could better address issues of mental health.
I remember the very first time I ever had to deal with someone who told me they were struggling with anxiety and depression. I did not understand and could not relate—so, I told them what I thought was the typical “Christian” answer to all problems…they should pray more, read their Bible more and memorize more Scripture.
Instead of lessening the load I was unintentionally adding to it.
The person mentioned their doctor had told them about going on a certain type of anti-depressant to help out with their struggle, and so they asked my opinion.
In a completely illiterate and uneducated manner I told them that people with “weak faith” are the ones that needed such meds, that godly people did not struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression and that taking such medication would essentially be screaming to God, “I don’t trust you.”
Noble explained that while he battled depression in 2008 for about three years, he and his doctor decided that medication "was not the right thing for me at that time," even though he was in such a dark time that he "gave suicide serious consideration." He said that he "secretly held this as a badge of honor" because he was able to overcome his own personal demons without resorting to medication.
However, as Noble began the writing process for his book, Overwhelmed, he began slipping back into a panicked, anxious state of mind, culminating in a call to his doctor in which he said that he "could not take it anymore and that I needed something to help me."
Noble now says, "I’m not ashamed of the fact I am taking an anti-depressant and have done a complete 180 in regards to how I used to feel about them."
He slammed the stigmatization of medication in church communities, declaring:
The church has used, “pray and read your Bible more” as a “cure” for anxiety and depression for far too long.
And we have placed people who use medication to treat the issue in a category that is way less godly than those who do not use it.
However, as someone who has been on both sides of the issue I want to speak definitively on this by saying that it is NOT a sign of weakness to admit your need for medication in dealing with these issues; in fact, in many cases it may actually be a sign of strength.
His admission has sparked a debate on his Facebook page as people come forward to weigh in on the issue.
Some questioned his decision to use medication, as one commenter wrote:
Please hear me out. I struggled with depression and self - injury for years. Medication was not the amswer [sic]. It is 100% a spiritual issue. Please don't be decieved [sic] and settle in the easy way out of claiming it as an illness. God has so much in store for you without taking these life changing drugs!
However, most readers applauded him for his frankness, many even sharing their own positive experiences with medication, like one commenter who said:
I suffered with anxiety and depression for 40+ years. I have been so blessed by the help I've received from antidepressants. Many 'mental' illnesses are physiological at their roots. No one would look askance at a diabetic for taking insulin.
Noble concluded with a plea to his readers to get help in times of mental or emotional turmoil. "It’s ok to not be ok, but it’s not ok to stay that way," he said.
Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, the father of the late Matthew Warren, recently announced that he will be involved in a new mental health ministry inspired by his family's personal tragedy, partnering with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Ca., and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to host a day-long event called "The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church."