Americans are in a mental crisis – especially African Americans.  Can churches help?

Americans are in a mental crisis – especially African Americans. Can churches help?

from Brad R. Fulton, Indiana University

Centuries of systemic racism and everyday discrimination in the US have left a major mental stress on African American communities, and the past few years have dealt particularly severe blows.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out that black Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white Americans. Their communities were too hit disproportionately through job losses, food insecurity and homelessness as a result of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, racial injustice and high profile police killings of black men have taken place increased stress. In the summer of 2020, amid the Pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, a CDC poll found that 15% of black respondents had “seriously thought about suicide in the past 30 days,” compared with 8% of white respondents.

Many African Americans face barriers to obtaining mental health care for a variety of reasons. but as a sociologist who focuses on community-based organizations, I find that strengthening relationships between churches and mental health providers can be a way to improve access to needed services. In research with my co-workers Eunice Wong and Kathryn Derose, I’ve analyzed data on the spread of psychiatric care among religious communities and found that many African American communities offer such programs.

Need versus access

Rough 1 of 5 Americans experience mental illness in a given year. Even less than half of the adults those with mental illness receive mental health services.

African Americans use mental health services at around half the price of white Americans. This underuse may be due in part to being African American often strained relationship with medical institutions in the US since their Stories of racial bias and wrongdoing towards People of Color. Part of the reason can also be from stigma among some African Americans perceiving mental illness and seeking help as signs of weakness. Treatment “deserts” where mental health care providers are scarce can also be a factor.

Care in the church

Strengthening support

Our research suggests that building collaborations between African American communities and the mental health sector is a promising strategy to improve access to needed services. Given that 61% of African Americans say they attend church services Congregations can provide an accessible resource at least a few times a year.

Sometimes the connection between religion and mental health can prove harmful. Some communities see mental health problems as a product of personal sin, for example, and stigmatize people with mental illness.

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But churches can also be helpful environments. When clinical treatment supplemented by social support, the likelihood of successful results is greater, and places of worship often have built-in social networks. For example, individuals participating in a congregation-led bereavement management group may become involved in the congregation beyond their weekly meeting. Also some Mental health professionals Providing pro bono services to community based programs.

Social worker Victor Armstrong, the director of the Department of Mental Health, Developmental Disorders, and Substance Abuse in North Carolina, asserts that African American religious leaders can play a “critical role” in psychological wellbeing. Among other things, he suggests changing the language to focus on “wellness” rather than “illness” in order to reduce stigma, among other things.

Greater collaboration between communities and mental health providers could help contain the growing mental health crisis, particularly within African American communities.The conversation

Brad R. Fulton, Associate professor, Indiana University

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.


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