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Christian Counseling - A Response to Newsweek's February 8, 2010 Article, "The Depressing News About

In 2002, research on the effectiveness of antidepressant medication was conducted by Irving Kirsch and colleagues at the University of Connecticut. In reviewing FDA held data from published and unpublished studies he found that the treatment effect of medication over placebo was negligible for mild and moderate depression, but significant for severe depression. In other words, antidepressants not only don't cure depression, but they offer very little to no benefit to those with less than severe depression. Add that to the high cost of the drug and the side effects, and one must rightfully ask, "What's the point in taking antidepressants, if one is not severely depressed?"

Generally, the placebo (dummy pill) effect accounts for somewhere between 22-35% of the reported positive effect of any treatment. Yes, snake oil can help about one-third of those with depression or any other emotional or physical ailment, provided they believe it will work. This shouldn't surprise Christians because we know that the faith factor in life is incredibly important. Proverbs 23:7 says, "For as he thinks within himself, so he is." And Jesus could perform only a few miracles in His own hometown because of the disbelief of the residents.

The ongoing debate about the benefits of antidepressants hasn't much reached the mainstream since it began in 2002. Apart from drug companies, the FDA and drug researchers, most of us had no knowledge of the truth. Further complicating this lack of understanding has been recent research supporting the benefits of antidepressant medication (see January 2010, The Journal of the American Medical Association). Again, the benefits reported to in that article is due primarily to the placebo effect. Also, some of those in the field of research and medicine don't want to tell readers or patients the truth because their depression will resurface when they lose their faith in the drugs.

Some Americans take pride in being "able to handle the truth." Most all of us believe we have the right to the truth. But two years ago I read that about 50% of American medical doctors, much more in China, don't believe in telling their patients much in the way of bad news, as it confounds the benefits of treatment. In truth, without providing knowledge (good and bad) to the patient, he or she cannot give informed consent (voluntary agreement to be treated, which is based on having all available facts in hand, so that one can intelligently make an informed decision). Also, should patients discover their medical doctors withheld vital health information from them, distrust is likely to corrupt the relationship.

The research seems pretty clear that antidepressants (most of those prescribed today) aimed at increasing the brain's serotonin or epinephrine has very little to no effect on depression. The same article mentioned above reported there is an antidepressant medication approved in France, which showed the same dismal effects, even though it aims to decrease those brain chemicals. The bottom line is, perhaps levels of serotonin and epinephrine are not related to depression. Looking for a bit of good news by now?

There is strong evidence that mild to severe depression can be successfully treated by psychotherapy, and it's not just a placebo effect. For sure, it is not a cure all, and it doesn't work for everyone, but then again, nothing does. A Christian might think that if he or she lives rightly, depression and other illnesses should remain at bay. They may also believe that they should be able to avoid or pull themselves out of mental health or emotional problems quickly because of their faith and God's promises, such as the abundant life. However, there is only a little truth in that kind of reasoning (I am not referring to scripture or God). The additional reality is that "all of creation groans" (Romans 8:22) and that "in this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33) in all areas of life including mental health.

Depression negatively affects marriage and family relationships, work productivity, and enjoyment of life and causes physical illness, such as coronary heart disease. Be wise, get the help you need.

What have you found that has helped you manage or overcome depression?

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