Can Science Cure Depression?

Dr. Tim AllchinFor Those Giving Help, For Those Seeking Hope1 Comment

Editors Note: This article is part of our series on finding hope in the midst of depression. In this series, our counselors are helping people understand the reality of depression and how God sustains and helps those who are depressed. View the Series Page here.

It seems like every other day we see a new article or study released about depression. There is so much information (much of it being inconsistent or contradictory), and it’s difficult to know what to believe. It leaves many wondering, “Can science cure depression?”

Biblical Counselors have been criticized at times for failing to account for the science of mental health regarding depression or for being too critical of those taking medicine to alleviate depression.

Our goal with this series is to address that concern and to explain how a biblical counselor may deal with an issue like depression.

This article provides a survey of current scientific research, none of which we are suggesting or necessarily claiming to be true/accurate. You’ll see that no obvious consensus or universal treatment protocol exists to help those with depression.

After the survey, we’ll share some conclusions that can be drawn from the research.

Survey of Current Research  

What causes depression?
Current research says: Stress, Boredom, Excess Body Weight, Anxiety, Sugar, Aging, Smartphones, Inactivity, and the list could go on and on.

How should depression be treated/alleviated?
Current research suggests: Dark Chocolate, Regular Exercise, CBD, Having a Pet, Psychedelics, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and much more. 

Which is a better long term solution: counseling or anti-depression medicine?
A recent University of Michigan study found some surprising results that challenged much of the conventional practice regarding depression. “Spending an hour in talk therapy with a trained counselor costs much more, and takes more time, than swallowing an inexpensive antidepressant pill. But for people with a new diagnosis of major depression, the costs and benefits of the two approaches end up being equal after five years, a new study shows.”[1]

What are some additional treatment options that are being studied/used?
Recently, there has been a comeback of “Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)” for the treatment of chronic depression. [2]  Additionally, recent research on gut-health has led to increasing research on how diet and gut-health affect the feelings and treatment of depression. [3]  Factors like exercise and outdoor activity are also increasingly factored into the studies about the causes and cures of depression. [4]

How well do antidepressants work?
Recent studies are mixed on this question as well.  Theories abound about placebo’s achieving the same result as medicine [5] and other studies question long-term antidepressant use. [6]  Other studies have concluded that antidepressants are essential for the effective treatment of depression.  It is possible to cherry-pick evidence to claim or deny the appropriateness of antidepressant use.  Our counselors find mixed feelings from people who take antidepressants. Some seem to have benefited from them, and others wish they never tried them.

These Answers Seem Confusing, Don’t They?

Science doesn’t show with certainty what causes depression, treats depression, or the long-term effectiveness of medical or non-medical treatments.

So, what do we conclude from all these studies?  The body and the inner-man/heart are in constant interaction.

3 Conclusions from the Research

1.  Depression is more than biological.  It simply isn’t credible to equate depression and cancer or depression and the flu.  Depression involves every aspect of man both physical and spiritual.  Finding a completely physical cure or completely spiritual cure isn’t realistic.  A good counselor will address both factors and that is entirely consistent with a biblical view of life in a fallen world.

2.  Depression likely has multiple causes in most people.  While depression has a greater physical cause in some people, it has more circumstantial causes in others.  How we respond to circumstances and physical discomfort greatly impact the intensity and duration of the depression we feel.  A good counselor will help you evaluate how you typically respond to life circumstances and whether those responses are helpful and consistent with the life that God desires for us. 

3.  Depression is confusing and painful.  It’s incredibly difficult, and many who are chronically depressed find the cure elusive.  This is why we spend billions of dollars, in research and treatment, seeking to alleviate it.  A good counselor helps like a friend bringing a comforting connection and gentle correction.  We need comfort for our pain and God-honoring perspective for our confusion.  A good counselor cares for you without having to know what is the exact cause of your depression.

Final Thoughts

Current science and research focuses on eliminating symptoms, and they seem to be no closer to finding or agreeing on successful treatments. Biblical Counselors view depression as holistically involving the heart, mind, and body. We believe good counseling addresses both the inner and outer man: both the spiritual and physical suffering.

In the next article, we plan to lay out more of the biblical understanding of depression, the causes and cures, and how a biblical counselor seeks to help those who are depressed.

[1] Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. “In the long run, drugs and talk therapy hold same value for people with depression.” ScienceDaily. (accessed January 22, 2020).

[2] BMJ. “Consider non-surgical brain stimulation for severe depression, say experts: Findings provide further clarification about the benefits of non-surgical brain stimulation.” ScienceDaily. (accessed January 27, 2020).

[3] University of Virginia Health System. “Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms: Lactobacillus affects mood, anxiety in mice; researchers optimistic findings should hold true in humans.” ScienceDaily. (accessed January 28, 2020).

[4] University of Adelaide. “Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression.” ScienceDaily. (accessed January 28, 2020).

[5] University of Gothenburg. “Rebutting the claim that antidepressants do not work.” ScienceDaily. (accessed January 27, 2020).


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One Comment on “Can Science Cure Depression?”

  1. I just want to say that your articles are SO helpful. I am one who has dealt with depression nearly all of my life, and have overcome through both spiritual and medical means. God is the Source of all healing, whichever of those means it comes through. Thank you for your genuine and thoughtful explanations and clarifications for those both in and out of the church, and those dealing with depression in themselves or others.

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