Medicine is Good

And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate–
Alma 46:40

I used to believe that there was no such thing as depression, and by that I mean clinical depression. How could there be a malady that affected your emotional state outside of your own control? It seemed contrary to the doctrine of agency, of free choice.

I wish I hadn’t contributed to the stigma that still surrounds these psychiatric disorders. I wish I hadn’t thought, and even said, that all depression is the product of sin. I was using Moroni 10:22 as my ammunition:

And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.

See what I did there? I equated depression with despair, of the feeling of hopelessness with having no hope. From there, it’s easy to say, Oh, I’m depressed because I’m sinful.

And that would make sense — depression as a result of sin makes more sense than depression as a result of seratonin levels in your brain chemistry. But the hope Moroni was speaking of is different than the hope we seem to lack when we’re depressed.

The hope Moroni is referring to is specifically hope “to be raised unto life eternal” (Moroni 7:41). The hope we who have felt depression may or may not be related to that at all. In a search for a legitimate reason for our depression, our minds may cling to feelings of unworthiness, of being damned and there being no hope for us, but really any reason will do. We can lose hope of ever having an enjoyable career, a family, a healthy body, or maybe wealth, status, or pride.

I speak from experience. My depression has never been so constricted that it could only be attached to one reason — it was really just random. Whatever concern I had at the time became an insurmountable giant, a dismal failure I could never hope to overcome.

You don’t need to examine the logic of a depressed person’s hopelessness for long before you can see there is no logic. That’s partially why the stigma exists, I think: depressed people are annoyingly illogical! (And most psychiatric disorders impede their victims’ abilities to be logical, it seems.) It takes wisdom and experience to recognize that the feelings one has are not based in reality, and that this is likely another storm of depression that needs to be weathered.

But God has blessed us in these days with a help for depression in the form of modern medicine. Many, many people are still afraid to try it, or maybe they’re like I was: adamant that the solution is in being more righteous.

My darkest time in my life, the time when I was closest to sticking my head in a gas oven and giving up on living, was also when I was at my most measurably righteous. I was a missionary in Argentina, working my hardest at bringing happiness to strangers for twelve hours a day, as well as studying scriptures for hours in the morning.  (And, for the record, I was getting more exercise and sunlight than I’d seen in my youth in Florida. My depression was not the product of ‘not getting out’ or ‘not getting enough exercise’. While sunlight and exercise have certainly shown to reduce depression, I’m not at all convinced they work for all cases.)

My point is this: I thought I would never be happy. I was doing the very most a person can do in living the Gospel, and I was beginning to believe that I was simply doomed to feeling miserable the rest of my life. That kind of emotional pain was so great, I began plotting how I could take my life and end the pain.

Instead, I waded through misery as it occurred on and off for several years, until I finally conceded to the wishes of my family and got on anti-depressants. I’m one of the lucky ones for whom these medications have worked very well. And in the process I’ve become much more attuned to when my feelings are the product of external issues versus internal ones. When my meds fail me, as SSRIs are prone to do on occasion, I’m better at recognizing it.

To diagnose another’s depression as the product of sin is a massive mistake. It smacks of Mosiah 4:17, where the unrighteous person judges that “the man has brought upon himself his misery.” To diagnose your own depression that way is to believe God is punishing you for your sins, and to lack faith that he truly loves you, and wants you to be happy.

A loving God has provided medicine in our day through the inspired minds of doctors and scientists working for our benefit. Note the scripture at the beginning of this post, especially the part about God preparing remedies to remove the cause of diseases. Doesn’t that sound more like the God you know loves you?