Today I read an article which stated that the most prescribed drugs in the United States today are antidepressants. I was surprised to learn this information, thinking that physical maladies such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, or even headaches, would be the largest cause for medication, rather than mental or emotional illnesses. Here’s an excerpt from the article that I found to be very thought-provoking:
“Dr. Ronald Dworkin tells the story of a woman who didn’t like the way her husband was handling the family finances. She wanted to start keeping the books herself but didn’t want to insult her husband.
“The doctor suggested she try an antidepressant to make herself feel better.
“She got the antidepressant, and she did feel better, said Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington’s Hudson Institute, who told the story in his book “Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class.” But in the meantime, Dworkin says, the woman’s husband led the family into financial ruin.
“Doctors are now medicating unhappiness,” said Dworkin. “Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives.” (Elizabeth Cohen, cnn.com)
The doctor’s last observation was quite an astute one, because she has honed in on three key elements of American culture. I want to briefly examine each one of those elements since they are all diametrically opposed to what we are taught about the Christian life in Scripture.
The first element that the doctor hones in on is our need for a quick-fix. If something is wrong with our lives, anything at all, we assume that there must be a quick and easy way to take care of it. A pill, a 12-step program, a formula. We want the solution here and now without having to wait. That is the culture we live in, which makes it difficult to embrace the many verses in Scripture that praise the virtue of patience. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, and Jesus didn’t start his ministry until he was 30 years old, but we want results here and now. Unfortunately that’s not how God does things, so we should be wary of that mindset.
The second dynamic that the doctor hones in on is our laziness. We are a culture that does not want to work too hard for anything. And this dynamic is everywhere–on t.v. there are countless commercials for diet pills that help you to lost weight without a lot of the hard work. You can also by books about how to make millions of dollars without ever having to leave your home. Or perhaps the thing that bugs me the most is when I go to a restaurant or store, only to have the cashier treat me as if I am imposing on their time. It’s as if they’re thinking, “I could be talking on the phone with my boyfriend, but instead I have to bother with YOU?!” That attitude really drives me up the wall, but given the culture we live in, I shouldn’t be surprised. We are all so used to being catered to, that we see it as an imposition when someone expects us to cater to them. Quite a far cry from Paul’s words: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Heb. 12:1) and “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) If we don’t like to work hard, then we picked the wrong religion. Christianity is a faith that leads you directly to the cross, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a way around that one.
The third dynamic that the doctor alludes to, and the dynamic which probably encompasses the first two, is our culture’s fear of suffering. We live in a culture that views suffering as a horrible tragedy that is to be avoided at all costs. This is not, however, the example we are given in Scripture. In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh that God refuses to take away. in response to the thorn, Paul exlaims, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2. Cor. 12:8-10)
Then, in James 1:2-4 we read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Now these passages do not mean that we should seek suffering for suffering’s sake–just because you have a bad life doesn’t mean you are somehow closer to God. Rather, we live in a fallen world so suffering is inevitable, and it is what you DO with that unavoidable suffering that matters. You can use your suffering as a means for growing closer to God, or you can run away from it, seeking refuge inthings like medications or relationships or your career.
Please don’t mistake me–I am not saying that people should not go on antidepressants. There is certainly a time and a place for them, especially because many Christians who suffer from depression mistake their unhappiness for a lack of faith. In the same way that a person with a broken arm shouldn’t merely pray for it to get better but should go to a doctor, someone suffering with depression should seek medical help as well.
For some of us, however, our dependence on antidepressants reveals a deeper, spiritual issue. Antidepressants have become a fix-all solution to rampant unhappiness, even though the cause of our unhappiness is oftnetimes our own bad decisions and misplaced priorities. It is remarkable to me that as we live in the wealthiest country in the world, a country that seems to have it all, the most common medication is antidepressants. Clearly, our material possessions aren’t enough. Something else is missing.
That is why I think that suffering can be our friend, rather than our enemy. Long, hard, wrestling with the difficult things in life will quickly prune away the superficial crutches that prop up our happiness, and will force us to depend on the one thing that can sustain our spirit: God. The easier our lives are, the easier it is to use the crutches of over-medication, relationships, or career for our confidence and strength in life. They provide us with just enough support to get through life when things are calm. But they slowly eat away at us, coroding our souls as we begin to realize they are ultimately empty. That is why we should embrace suffering–it may destroy the foundations that are built on sand, or burn up the houses made of straw, but in doing so, it forces us to re-build our houses on rock, out of a material that lasts. Suffering forces us to do those things that we would ordinarily opt out of because we are either too impatient or too lazy, and it is for that reason that we should count our trials as joy, because they are uniquely able to push us towards God. In this way, suffering is actually a cause for rejoicing, not medicating.
Ever listen to the Derek Webb song? You’re absolutely right that we play around on our crutches of meds and attention because we’re too scared to hurt, even a little bit. Just the emotional issues we have to deal with are just as, if not more than, traumatic than any physical ailment. I got some interesting quotes on the subject in a June entry (http://youarenotajediyet.blogspot.com/2007/06/to-pain.html) and most of my subsequent posts have been on this very subject. A toast to pain and its benefits – may we never grow numb.
I just read an interesting article in NEWSWEEK on anti-depressants use by teens. A little while ago some researchers claimed to have found a link between teen anti-depressant use and suicide; it seemed that anti-depressants could actually influence teens to commit suicide. The study was widely publicized, and warning labels were added to all anti-depressants telling parents of this potential risk. As a result, teenage use of anti-depressants has dropped 50% from 2003-2005. However, in the same time period, teen suicide rates actually rose 18%. Now some researchers are claiming that there is a link between the declining rates of medication and the rising rates of teen suicide.
I don’t really have anything to say about this; I think the data pretty much speaks for itself. I just saw it and thought it was pertinent, so I figured I’d post it for anyone who was interested.