The Cave Place: Welcome to Cave Chats. Today we'll be chatting with Robert Scholz, who serves as the assistant director at Pepperdine University's Counseling Center. He also oversees their program related to alcohol and drug use and is a professor in the graduate school of psychology.
The Cave Place: For our first round of content on The Cave Place, we are focusing on educating ourselves and discussing issues of faith related to different kinds of depression and anxiety. So first, can you share with us a little bit about your understanding of the different kinds of depression and anxiety, situational and chemical, and some of the ways that they might overlap.
Scholz: From a science standpoint, there are different ways we diagnose depression. There are different kinds of depression diagnoses including major depression and bi polar disorder, which has a component of depression, and disorders like adjustment disorder. But when we think about a chemical depression, we're thinking of depression where there has truly been an impact on the brain and how the brain functions. And often times that's more in line with what we refer to as major depression. Then there's situational depression that is often times in response to a very specific trigger in somebody's life. Sometimes there is something specific we can tie it to and the depression or anxiety ends after a period of time. And sometimes the depression from that situation affects a person physically and it can turn into something more advanced.
The Cave Place: So you're saying that something that starts out as situational depression can become chemical if not dealt with properly? That makes sense. So as Christians we believe in the concept of sin and we believe that there are things we can do that separate us from God. Obviously, sin and spiritual things can play a role in depression, so can we chat a bit about the role of sin and possible guilt as a cause of certain types of depression or anxiety?
Scholz: That's a great question and I think often times for Christians, when they sin and therefore violate their value system, it brings up some discomfort. For some people it makes them very anxious. For other people, it makes them feel depressed and shameful. When they don't have proper healthy outlets to examine and process those feelings, the thoughts become more and more internalized and, over time, can even effect how the brain functions. In some of those situations where people have done something they are keeping a secret, something that is festering, that can bring out a mental health issue.
The Cave Place: What do you think grace has to do with all this?
Scholz: When I think of grace, I think of forgiveness, but sometimes it's hard for people to embrace that God forgives them so they have a hard time forgiving themselves. I think that's one of the things that can trigger depression and/or anxiety. Likewise, there's like a parallel process that happens with those in their life. Sometimes when a person sins, those around them don't know how to be with the person in their imperfection. And even in some faith communities people get shut out, which leads to isolation, which exacerbates the isolation that depressed people are already feeling. So a big part of treatment is teaching people how to forgive themselves and teaching them to remember that in the scriptures, there's a place for grace. That's why we really value the inclusion of friends and family in somebody's treatment because as they start to receive grace from friends and family, they can start to forgive themselves as well.
The Cave Place: So we've talked about situational depression. But what about what might be referred to as chemical depression or when someone is going about life and something triggers this depression or anxiety that's been under the surface their whole life. Maybe they had some signs of it, but didn't really know what it was. And because we do believe in sin, we tend to want to place blame on one thing and try to figure out what we did wrong. How do you navigate that with students, communicating to them about the biological side of mental health from a Christian perspective?
Scholz: The topic of depression is not your typical Sunday morning sermon topic or what people learn in Sunday school. And so I do think sometimes Christians attribute their negative feelings to something they've done wrong, when maybe it has nothing to do with that whatsoever. Just like with any other illness, if you're feeling symptoms from a cold or you may showing signs of being diabetic or having high blood pressure, it's all about educating the people around you. It may in fact have nothing to do with anything you've done and may be more in fact to do with how you are wired and how your body is responding to things at this time in your life. The
The Cave Place: Right. Well, that's all the questions I have for you. Thank you so much for chatting with us and hopefully we all learned something new.