This post will be a discussion and mini-review of the peer reviewed article “Results from a community mental health assessment in a historically black church: A call for action”, written by Ormond, Barbour, Lewis, Montgomery, & Ponds. This article was published in 2019 in the Journal of Prevention and Intervention in the Community, and broadly aims to examine the stigma of mental health in a primarily African American community.

What did they do?

Tabernacle Bible Church, located in Kansas, hosted a mental and emotional health awareness conference in order to address the current issues within their already existing mental health counseling services. The 2 primary goals of the Tabernacle Mental Health Awareness Conference were:

  1. Reduce the stigma of mental health by providing resources to both the church and community members
  2. Identify barriers to seeking mental health care in the community

Why did they do it?

It is well documented that mental health is a major concern in America as a whole, specifically for underrepresented or minority groups. As cited by the authors, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 18.6% of African American adults are currently living with a mental health disorder. The rates of mental health issues among the black community are not disproportionate to that of the general population, however, the average rates of mental health services provided, are. According to the authors of this article, only 1 in 3 African Americans who need mental health services actually receive them. There is existing research to support various barriers that limit the accessibility of mental health services to African American individuals in particular, just some of which include stigma, competing responsibilities, a sense of mistrust, and socioeconomic factors.

The cost of treatment and lack of insurance coverage impacts many Americans in the realm of mental health. However, this disproportionately affects African Americans due to historically lower incomes and difficulty obtaining employment, as explained in the article we are discussing today. It is also noted in the article that many African Americans fear the cultural insensitivity of psychologists and psychiatrists. Social stigmas also exist in such a way that the authors described them as “an individual and a cultural barrier”.

Research has found that to combat the many barriers present in the black community regarding mental health, African Americans rely on faith, family, and social communities for emotional support. The Tabernacle Bible Church in Kansas is just one example of such a spiritual support system. The church offers counseling services, however, according to staff, many of their counseling service centers are overcrowded and there is a mismatch between the services they are licensed to offer and the severity of psychological presentations they see in their community. In order to examine the specific needs of the community, a mental health conference was established.

How did they do it?

The mental health conference was comprised of four distinct parts:

  1. A keynote address
  2. Breakout sessions for men, women, and children
  3. Resource tables for mental health service providers

There were 17 total mental health service providers recruited to participate in the conference, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Wichita, KS, COMCARE, Kansas University (KU) Psychiatry, Veterans Affairs – Behavioral Health Clinic/Suicide Prevention Unit, and Wichita State University Psychology Clinic, among others.

  1. A panel discussion where experts discussed ending the mental/emotional health stigma in the African American community

A 30-item survey was developed to assess opinions regarding seeking mental health services. The survey was also developed to identify potential barriers to mental health care, spirituality, and conference satisfaction.

What did they find?

The sample of this study was fairly small, with only 74 of the 249 conference attendees actually completing the survey in its entirety. However, the message conveyed by the results of this study are still incredibly important to the advancement of mental health accessibility.

Conference impact, effectiveness, and satisfaction: Overall, individuals who participated in the survey study were satisfied, and rated it as a “very good experience”. Those who participated in the survey indicated that the conference increased their understanding of what mental health may look like in people of color, and participants also felt that the conference made them more aware of resources in the local area.

Barriers to care: Only a very small subset of individuals completed this section of the survey (39.2%). However, there were three barriers identified as being most prominent within the community, which included not wanting to be labeled, not being able to afford care, and not knowing where to go for care.

What does it all mean (our take)?

It’s relatively clear, even in this small sample, that the overall reception of mental health services is a positive one, however, the issue lies within the barriers to access of care. Barriers such as stigma, and fear of negative evaluation are things that can ideally be overcome within the community, or even better, within society! We as a society are on an upward climb when it comes to the acceptance of mental health issues, but we can always do better!

The primary goal here is to do our best, as mental health professionals and as a community, to ensure that individuals have access to care if they so choose to go that route. Everyone is different, and understanding that is just as important as ensuring access to care. There are a variety of options when it comes to mental health treatment, from self-help apps, to professional treatment, to spirituality, and we want these tools to be available for individuals to use to address any mental health concerns they may be experiencing.

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