Dr. Ken Cameron, Professor of Psychology
Q: What types of physiological factors are associated with mental health?
A: In discussing physiological factors you of course begin with general physical health. There are many aspects that have been shown through research to enhance mental health and decrease the chance of psychological difficulties, including depression.
Beyond the generalities, we know that “chemical imbalances” (neurotransmitter factors) play are role in psychological problems, including the insufficiency of Serotonin as correlated with depression. There is no simple cause and effect in such cases, but neurotransmitters are involved.
Q: How do genetics play into our mental health?
A: In general, genetic factors create our composite of strengths and weaknesses. Genetic factors influence our basic personalities, including extroversion/introversion, tendencies toward being perpetually happy versus subdued, and vulnerabilities to stress. We are born with a certain degree of vulnerability that, in interaction with environmental stress, leads to a greater likelihood to develop a disorder related to anxiety and depression.
Q: How do psychologists or psychiatrists help those struggling with mental health?
A: The is a large question, but the basic answer is that they help individuals explore their difficulties to assess and treat the various contributors to the problem, including biological, thought processes, and relational issues. A key determination is whether a problem such as depression is in the mild to moderate range such that counseling and lifestyle changes may be sufficient versus whether the problem is severe enough that medication may be helpful or necessary.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Historically, Christians have sometimes assumed that any emotional/psychological problem is a result of a spiritual problem, and this is a destructive thought. All psychological difficulties are not related to sin. For example, Psalm 32 may indeed be related David’s depression and turmoil following his sin with Bathsheba, but this does not mean that all of our depression and anxiety is rooted in sin and spiritual difficulties.
Dr. Kevin Kehl, Dean of Student Success
Q: How do our spiritual lives affect our mental health?
A: The question that you asked actually assumes this kind of compartmentalization of life. So, you have spiritual life, emotional life and you have academic life and a physical life, and as children of God, well that is an American Western worldview — these compartments — and it’s just a part of the water we swim in. How can life events, experiences not affect all aspects of our lives. So, we’re made in the image of God, but is God compartmentalized? I think what we experience in our lives affects all of us, all parts of us.
Q: How do you think prayer relates to this?
A: I think prayer is one of the ways we carry out this relationship with the person that knows us as whole beings. Our prayer is an essential part of that relationship, especially the part that expresses our dependence.
Q: Depending on our mental health state, will that affect our spiritual health?
A: When we have something going on in our lives that falls into the category that we’ve given related to emotional or mental health, whether it be stress induced, chemically induced, the one who made us, knows us. Our worldview about who knows us best and where, how and who we seek our help from is critical.
Q: How can the Christian community help those struggling with mental health?
A: Treating and approaching people as fellow human beings. One of the real problems we have with people who struggle with emotional or mental illness is we see them as somehow less human. I would suggest that actually, people who exhibit one of these things are just or more fully human than everyone else. Maybe they’re unable or unwilling at some level to depend on others or the Lord. We are there, we are available and we especially bring those people before the person that knows them the very best. We know a lot and we’re learning things all of the time and that’s a gift from God. However, it doesn’t lessen our dependence on God to intervene, to restore and to redeem. As God is present, we want to be present with people as well.