African American Clergy and Depression: What They Know; What They Want to Know

By Anthony, Jean Spann; Johnson, April et al. | Journal of Cultural Diversity, Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

African American Clergy and Depression: What They Know; What They Want to Know


Anthony, Jean Spann, Johnson, April, Schafer, John, Journal of Cultural Diversity


Depression is a serious medical illness affecting more than 19 million American adults each year but one that can be effectively treated (Report of the Surgeon General, 2001). In fact, more than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. However, in the African American community depression is often untreated (Mental Health America Fact Sheet, 2006). Factors that contribute to fewer African Americans being diagnosed and treated for depression include: 1) a mistrust of the medical profession based on historical experiences; 2) cultural barriers, influenced by language and value differences between the health care provider and the patient; and 3) reliance on the support of family and the religious community during periods of emotional distress (Brown, Ndubuisi, & Gary, 1990; Dupree, Watson & Schneider, 2005).

BACKGROUND

The lifetime prevalence of Major Depression Disorder (MDD) is estimated to be higher for Whites than for African Americans (Earl, Williams & Anglade, 2011). A study by Pratt & Brody (2008) reported that the percent of non-Hispanic adult blacks suffering from symptoms of depression was 10.4% compared to Whites (17.9%). However, Earl et al, (2011) found significant differences in the measures of persistence / chronicity and severity in depressed African Americans (56.5%) compared to Whites (38.6%). A similar study by Williams, Gonzales, Neighbors, Nesse, Abelson, Sweetman, & Jackson, (2007) found that on average African Americans had higher scores on all correlates of depression including those of Caribbean Blacks. Outcomes of their research show that disparities in mental health status can and do exist across the continuum of mental health. Living in an environment of oppression, injustice, discrimination, high crime levels, decreased access to goods and services and racism can lead to feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life leaving one more vulnerable to stress and thus the onset of depression and other mental disorders (Earl et al, 2011). However, in the study cited earlier by Pratt & Brody (2008), only about 29% of all Eersons with depression reported contacting a mental ealth professional and only 39% of those making the contact actually kept the appointment (Whaley, 2001; Sussman, Robins, & Earls, 1987). In addition, African Americans are less likely than other groups to receive adequate mental health treatment due to factors including racial bias, inadequate financial resources and lack of access to care (Amour,Bradshaw, & Rosenborough, 2009; Ford, 2003).

Several studies on attitudes and beliefs about depression have shown that approximately 63% of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness, and almost two-thirds said they believe that prayer and faith alone would successfully treat depression (Wang, Lane, Olfson, Pincus, Wells & Kessler, 2005; Chamberlain, Muntaner, Walrath, Nickerson, LaVeist, & Leaf, 2001; Neighbors, 1985). Nearly 40% of the African American population use clergy as their primary source of help for mental health issues, with less than 10% being referred on to mental health specialists (Openshaw & Harr, 2009; Farris, 2006; Kales, Blow, Bingham, Roberts, Copeland & Mellow, 2000; Levine, 1986). Further, African Americans who saw clergy first were less likely to contact other mental health professionals, were more satisfied with the help they received from clergy, and were more likely to refer others to clergy rather than to mental healtn professionals 0ett, 2000; Neighbors, Musick, & Williams, 1998).

The African American church has historically been the central institution in the black community, "giving rise to religious traditions, education, music, dramatic and artistic opportunities, economic stability and political involvement" (Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990, p. 9; McAdoo & Crawford, 1990). African American clergy are intimately involved in the lives of congregants providing counseling for bereavement, marital issues, pregnancy, employment, violence/abuse, drug abuse and legal problems (Taylor, Ellison, Chatters, Levin, & Lincoln, 2000; Mollica, Streets, Boscarino, & Redlich, 1986). …

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