A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease determined that the use of antidepressants in the United States had increased 400 percent since 1988. With that in mind, Catholics have questioned where the church stands on the use of antidepressants and if they are violating their faith by taking the drugs. The church has taken no documented stance on antidepressants but does acknowledge a connection between spirituality and physical health.
The only documented drug the Catholic Church has historically taken a stance in opposition to is birth control pills, but birth control pills are permitted for medicinal use. The Roman Catholic Church "does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism, even if an impediment to procreation, which may be foreseen, should result therefrom, provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive," according to Humanae Vitae #15. The issue of antidepressants is relatively new to the church. Generally, medications are accepted by the church if they improve the health and well-being of an individual, as the church acknowledges there is a connection between the mind and the body that allows for interventions such as psychotherapy.
The distinct definition of physical need for antidepressants could be considered open to interpretation, as there is no formal documentation or doctrine in place addressing need. However, according to the "Catholic Guide to Depression," the church recognizes that depression is a physical condition and may be present based on a number of factors a person can't control. One factor, for example, is a genetic predisposition that can require medical intervention. Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, co-director of the Program in Medical Ethics in the School of Medicine at University of California, notes that physical disruptions in life, such as the inability to sleep or concentrate, often with side effects of depression, can impact spiritual life. Msgr. John Cihak, STD, co-author of the "Catholic Guide to Depression," writes "We should keep the whole in mind as well as the deep connection between the body and the soul."
According to the Catholic Church, suicide is a sin and a violation of the fifth commandment. Antidepressants can be prescribed as a preventative measure to someone who may commit sin, as many people who are depressed have contemplated suicide. However, the use of antidepressants as a recreational drug constitutes a sin in the eyes of the church. The Catholic Enquiry Centre notes the use of drugs is a danger to human life: “Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.” The Catechism addresses this by stating that “the virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine.” For example, an individual is permitted to take an antidepressant if the drug is considered a mood stabilizer for a physical condition such as bipolar disorder.
The church advocates prayer, counseling and therapy, rather than pharmaceutical intervention, as a first response to mental instability. The confessional, however, according to Kheriaty, is not designed to deal with psychological disorders. The church is accepting of psychotherapy and modern medicine in such cases, according to "The Catholic Guide to Depression." The book also advises: "If the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals."
- Centers for Disease Control: Antidepressant Use in Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2005–2008
- Catholic Enquiry Centre: Drugs, Tobacco and Alcohol
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: Article 5, The Fifth Commandment
- The Catholic World Report: Catholics and Depression
- Catholics Against Contraception: The Ecyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Paul VI on the Regulation of Birth Humanae Vitae
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