Ministers’ Perceptions of Church-Based Programs to Provide Depression Care for African Americans


African Americans, compared with white Americans, underutilize mental health services for major depressive disorder. Church-based programs are effective in reducing racial disparities in health; however, the literature on church-based programs for depression is limited. The purpose of this study was to explore ministers’ perceptions about depression and the feasibility of utilizing the church to implement evidence-based assessments and psychotherapy for depression. From August 2011 to March 2012, data were collected from three focus groups conducted with adult ministers (n = 21) from a black mega-church in New York City. Using consensual qualitative research to analyze data, eight main domains emerged: definition of depression, identification of depression, causal factors, perceived responsibilities, limitations, assessment, group interpersonal psychotherapy, and stigma. A major finding was that ministers described depression within a context of vast suffering due to socioeconomic inequalities (e.g., financial strain and unstable housing) in many African American communities. Implementing evidence-based assessments and psychotherapy in a church was deemed feasible if principles of community-based participatory research were utilized and safeguards to protect participants’ confidentiality were employed. In conclusion, ministers were enthusiastic about the possibility of implementing church-based programs for depression care and emphasized partnering with academic researchers throughout the implementation process. More research is needed to identify effective, multidisciplinary interventions that address social inequalities which contribute to racial disparities in depression treatment.

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In the past 2 years, Dr. Hankerson was supported by grant 5-T32 MH015144 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and grant #17694 from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). Dr. Lukachko received support from a grant 5-T32-MH13043 from the NIMH. Dr. Weissman received funding from the NIMH, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), NARSAD, the Sackler Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, and the Interstitial Cystitis Association and receives royalties from the Oxford University Press, Perseus Press, the American Psychiatric Association Press, and MultiHealth Systems. None of these sources conflict with the content of this manuscript. The remaining authors have no relevant research support and no conflicts of interests to disclose. The results of this manuscript, in part, were presented at a symposium during the 64th Institute on Psychiatric Services Conference in New York, New York on Friday, 5 October 2012.

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Hankerson, S.H., Watson, K.T., Lukachko, A. et al. Ministers’ Perceptions of Church-Based Programs to Provide Depression Care for African Americans. J Urban Health 90, 685–698 (2013).

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  • African Americans
  • Church
  • Depression
  • Mental health services
  • Community-based participatory research