How to Counsel Burned Out Christians about Antidepressants

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In this video, Shona Murray shares her experience with and insights on antidepressants as she dealt with burnout and depression.

The following is a lightly edited transcript; please check the video before quoting.

Ryan Griffith: How would you counsel other Christians who are experiencing burnout, particularly as it relates, as a physician, as it relates to antidepressants?

Shona Murray: Burnout is a spectrum. There’s the mild, you know, a bad week to bad month to maybe bad year. Stressors as I’ve talked about, come on board in ministry, in family. So, it’s a spectrum, and I like to listen to people, first of all, to really see where they are at. Sometimes they don’t know how they end up like this. I want to know what happened in the last year or two in your life. Tell me about your life in the last two years leading up to this and any major things before then and try and get a gauge of how deep is this person into burnout, how extensive are the list of burnout symptoms or warning signs this person has. And very often, if it’s the milder end of the spectrum, there are simple lifestyle adjustments that can be made, even the most profound basic thing of sleep. We don’t realize how much we are having less sleep than our predecessors did, and all the other things, breaks, exercise, and so on. I usually encourage people to take a month or so and see, with these corrections, what happens. Unless somebody is profoundly depressed and if they’re way past that and I sense that they are in real danger, danger for their life and, you know, the life boat’s passing once and you’ve got one chance at it.

But most people are not at that stage. So, I encourage people don’t rush into antidepressants. But neither discount antidepressants. Do they have side effects? Sure, they do. Are they dangerous? Well, everything’s relative. One of the most dangerous drugs in the U.S. that contributes to the main cause of people overdosing and in ER and dying from drug overdose is in your kitchen cabinet, and we all have no problem taking it, and that’s Tylenol. The modern antidepressants are not as dangerous as that, and in fact, it’s extremely difficult to kill yourself with an overdose of modern, what we call the SSRI group, like Prozac, Celexa, these drugs.

People sometimes come with preconceived ideas. “It’s not spiritual to take antidepressants. I need to trust God more.” Trouble is, if your appendix bursts, you don’t hang around. You go and get appendectomy and you thank the Lord for the surgeon. If my mind is broken and I’ve tried everything else and God has placed in front of me a gift of His grace to rescue me and to heal my mind, I’ll take it. But I’ll never use that as a replacement for God Himself. I’ll never use that as a replacement for all the other things that need to be built into my life as well, lifestyle choices which may have contributed to this.

If the first particular choice of drug doesn’t help, you might have to go on to another one. It takes a little bit of time for the effect to kick into your system. And also, you have to be prepared to stick with it. One of the biggest mistakes people do is, “I now feel better.I’m three months into it. I don’t need these drugs anymore.” Back to the default lifestyle, mindset, driven, serving, serving, serving, giving, giving, giving, and surprise, surprise, we’re back into this.

Also, remember, the deeper you’re in a hole, the harder it is to get out. And I think all these gifts that God gives, including medication, in order to help you get better, don’t leave it too late. When you do leave things too late, the impact not just in yourself, but on everyone else around you as well, and the impact ultimately on the ministry that’s so often retrieved to fulfill it to its greatest potential. So, medication is a gift from God. Like every other gift, don’t abuse it.