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Abraham vs. Zoloft: And the Winner is . . .

Updated: Feb 16

Americans spent $6.9 billion on antidepressants like Zoloft in 2022. Depression rates are slowly coming down from their COVID peak in January 2021, but are still about three times higher than pre-COVID.


According to a May 2023 study documenting the percentage of “respondents reporting symptoms consistent with major depressive disorder and/or generalized anxiety disorder", hats off to Minnesota, the least anxious and depressed state; condolences to Mississippi, 50th of 50; but a wake-up call for all of us—the difference between Minnesota and Mississippi was of little consequence, 27.4% vs. 38.2% reporting symptoms. That means that nationally about 33% of us American adults (1 of 3) have painfully active mental health issues.


Now that COVID has died down, we have an election year to send anxiety back up. Donald Trump is calling America back to its supposed roots, but his way of doing it is to feed white anxiety. His opponents are trying to fight fire with fire, raising anxiety by sketching disastrous scenarios if he is re-elected. Both parties have a vested interest in increasing our anxiety this year, putting our national mental health under further pressure. Each is assuming that the more frantically fearful we are, the more likely we are to vote for their party to save us.


No matter who wins this no-win war, we have excellent prospects for a depressing year in 2025, either because our candidate lost, or because our candidate won but somehow isn’t bringing the positive change we thought he/she could. Or, don’t tell me, because we can’t agree who won and who lost.


I hate to mention these scenarios because they may lead some readers to get an early start on their 2025 depression. Let me call attention to a statistic that may throw some light on this dark subject. Globally the estimated percentage of people with an anxiety disorder is 4%. In America it is 19.1%. What does the rest of the world have that we don’t?


There is no simple answer, of course, but one key factor seems to be meaningful ethnic roots. Within our culture, look at the ethnic breakdown of mental illness numbers in this data from “Mental Health by the Numbers 2023”, National Alliance on Mental Illness.


Annual prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults, by demographic group:

  • Asian: 16.4%

  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 18.1% 

  • Black or African American: 21.4%

  • Hispanic or Latino: 20.7%

  • White: 23.9%

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 26.6%

  • Mixed/multiracial: 34.9%


This list suggests to me that the blocker of mental illness is not just awareness of roots but a positive view of one’s own roots, extended family, and ethnic community. And it is a quiet confidence that does not have to angrily defend itself. For example, Asian Americans suffered high profile attacks in recent years but they still have the least mental illness.


Even if my observation about the mental health value of ethnic roots and ethnic communities is true, does that idea help us at all in our battle with anxiety? We did not choose our DNA and we cannot change it. True, but we do have control over something else, and this is where Abraham comes in.


Through Abraham God handed us the fire hose we need right now to douse the flames of this wildfire of anxiety and depression, blazing at personal and national levels. God opened up what I call a meta-ethnic opportunity for us, and it works at a level Zoloft can’t touch, the DNA of the soul.


If we turn on this fire hose, if we seize this God-given opportunity, God brings us into the world’s greatest and most positive group. We become Abraham’s spiritual descendants and we share in his mission to bless every family on the planet. This builds our sense of security, purpose, belonging, and significance. Together those four blessings work like antibodies against mental illness, including anxiety and depression.


The National Institute of Mental Health won’t tell you directly about Abraham, but they will give you some clues. Along with expected suggestions for managing anxiety, such as avoiding caffeine and using a relaxation app, they recommend, “Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts,” and, “Reach out to your friends or family members who help you cope in a positive way.”


One unhelpful thought is that you can’t do anything about your soul DNA. Abraham's story kills that idea. It also lets you know that if you are or become part of the Abrahamic “family”, you have a lot more family members to reach out to than you thought.


Mental illness isn’t mental. It is psychological, and psychological illness is literally “soul illness”. The Greek word translated “soul” in the New Testament is “psyche”, and it means the inner self where depression and anxiety go to play. Abraham and his deputies-- security, purpose, belonging, and significance—keep bullies off that playground.


Unfortunately the Abraham story won’t do that for you if you look at it as the story of a model of faith to imitate. That outlook makes the story a burden instead of a help.


The story gets helpful only when you get beyond the information level (Abraham is a model) and down to the level of feelings and experience (a sense of an energizing connection between Abraham’s story and your own). I can’t tell you exactly how that “sense” will arrive for you or how it will feel, but I may be able to help you discover it for yourself. Check out the Roots Tool Kit recommended on for “Roots Season”, Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday (February 14-March 23, 2024).


Put your roots down into the Abraham story using some of the spring gardening tools in the Roots Tool Kit. Experiment to see which tools work best in your gardening conditions. And remember it’s not about working harder. “In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life” (James 1.21)


So who is the winner hinted at in the title of this post? Not Zoloft. But not Abraham either. The winner is you if you recognize that there should not be any “vs.” in the title. Zoloft and Abraham are allies not competitors.

Like crutches for a broken bone, antidepressants help us deal with a broken heart or soul, creating time and space for deeper healing. In that time we move beyond a head knowledge of the Abraham story to the experiential knowledge that brings slow, deep, positive change. Happy growing!

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