Mental Health and the Black Church
Updated: Feb 4
Literature suggests that African Americans are much more likely to rely on their faith as a coping mechanism for dealing with depression and anxiety than they are to utilize a mental health professional (Armstrong, 2019). Social stigmas surrounding mental health along with the historical and socioeconomic impacts of slavery have all impacted the narrative surrounding mental health in African American churches. Growing up hearing the statements of “You’re not relying on God enough”, “You aren’t praying enough”, and “God is the only answer” seeking help outside of the church were often associated with a lack of faith.
Being partially raised by a grandmother who was paranoid schizophrenic while growing up in a Baptist church-my scope on church and mental health is an interesting one. I have witnessed both the casting out of demons and visiting my grandmother in mental institutions periodically. I was fortunate to experience the duality of both, but there was also a cognitive dissonance that was created. Was my grandmother mentally ill or possessed? When I began to have my own experiences with PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), was it because I was predisposed or was this the result of no longer being active in church?
Statistically, African Americans have higher rates of mental illness/issues than other minorities. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress, and in 2017 it was reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among African Americans ages 15-24.
So what responsibilities can the black church take on in relation to mental health?
Here are a few thoughts:
Teaching the church community that mental illness exists and is valid: mental health conditions exist as much as physical health conditions and can even be directly correlated to physical circumstances. Once it is recognized that mental health awareness is valuable to spiritual wellness, there can be true restorative justice between communities.
Reframing how the church and church leaders view and address mental health: Individuals can have faith, seek therapy, and even take necessary medications simultaneously. Changing the narrative behind mental illness within the church de-stigmatizes the conversation.
Effectively training church leaders and staff to recognize mental health issues: as spiritual counselors and advisers recognizing the signs of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses can assist with truly understanding the demographic they serve.
Pursuing potential mental health partners: being able to create a cultural climate that focuses on the restoration of religion and mental health can offer healing within generations of black families.
Ayana and Religion
Ayana's main goal is to provide people and the entirety of their intersectional identity with therapists that understand them, that includes religious identity. One of the questions on our match making algorithm will ask for your religious beliefs in order to find you a therapist who will not only respect that, but understand how that also effects your identity.