Losing Faith and Using Faith: Older African Americans Discuss Spirituality, Religious Activities, and Depression

  • Marsha N. Wittink
  • Jin Hui Joo
  • Lisa M. Lewis
  • Frances K. Barg
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11606-008-0897-1

Cite this article as:
Wittink, M.N., Joo, J.H., Lewis, L.M. et al. J GEN INTERN MED (2009) 24: 402. doi:10.1007/s11606-008-0897-1


Background and Objectives

Older African Americans are often under diagnosed and under treated for depression. Given that older African Americans are more likely than whites to identify spirituality as important in depression care, we sought to understand how spirituality may play a role in the way they conceptualize and deal with depression in order to inform possible interventions aimed at improving the acceptability and effectiveness of depression treatment.


Cross-sectional qualitative interview study of older African American primary care patients.

Participants and Setting

Forty-seven older African American patients recruited from primary care practices in the Baltimore, MD area, interviewed in their homes.


Semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 60 minutes. Interviews were transcribed and themes related to spirituality in the context of discussing depression were identified using a grounded-theory approach.

Main Results

Participants in this study held a faith-based explanatory model of depression with a particular emphasis on the cause of depression and what to do about it. Specifically, participants described depression as being due to a “loss of faith” and faith and spiritual/religious activities were thought to be empowering in the way they can work together with medical treatments to provide the strength for healing to occur.


The older African Americans in this study described an intrinsically spiritual explanatory model of depression. Addressing spirituality in the clinical encounter may lead to improved detection of depression and treatments that are more congruent with patient’s beliefs and values.



Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marsha N. Wittink
    • 1
  • Jin Hui Joo
    • 2
  • Lisa M. Lewis
    • 3
  • Frances K. Barg
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Family Medicine and Community HealthUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, School of MedicineUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Division of Family and Community Health, School of NursingUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Anthropology, School of Arts and SciencesUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA