The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Professional Help Seeking Among Religious African Americans

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, River Terrace, Upper Parking Level, Elevator Level P2 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Krystal S. Hays, MSW, LCSW, Doctoral Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Religious African Americans have lower rates of mental health help seeking than their non-religious counterparts, putting a significant subpopulation of African Americans at risk for poor mental health outcomes. Through regression analysis I examine the relationship between individual characteristics, aspects of social support, level of church attendance, and having a mentally ill family member with the odds of professional help seeking among religious African Americans. This work helps to uncover contributors to low professional help seeking rates of religious African Americans with implications for the need, design, and feasibility of church-based mental health interventions.


Data from the National Survey of American Life was used which is a nationally representative survey of adults gathered from 2001 to 2003 by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.  Here, the analytic sample included African Americans who attend church regularly and have had a serious personal problem in their lifetime (N=981). The outcome of interest is seeking mental health help from a professional which was assessed using items that ask whether or not respondents sought help from various individuals for a serious personal problem. Control variables include demographics (age, gender, household income, and education) and having a physical impairment (WHODAS-II) or mental health impairment (WMH-CIDI). Predictor variables include: social support (positive and negative, church and family), frequency of church attendance (high=nearly every day; moderate=at least once a week; low=a few times a month), and having a close relative with a mental problem or not. Mulitvariate logistic regression was employed.


The study sample was entirely African American with a mean age of 45. Most were female, had high positive family and church support, attend church moderately, had a family member with a mental disorder, and did not seek professional help. Variables that were positively associated with the odds of going to a professional for help are: age, being female, education, physical impairment, and mental health diagnosis. In one-tailed hypotheses testing (p<.10) only family support was found to be trending in the data with positive family support having a marginal negative association (OR=0.70, 95%CI=0.45,1.08, p=0.11) and negative family interaction having a marginal positive association (OR=1.32, 95%CI=0.89,1.96, p=0.16)  to professional help seeking..


In this analysis the positive association between age and seeking professional help was inconsistent with previous research that suggests a negative association with age and help seeking in the general population. This gives important insight into the mental health behaviors of older religious African Americans and should be further explored.  There are implications for church based interventions as results of this analysis show that the level at which one attends church is not significantly related to help seeking behavior so that mental health interventions for church-going African Americans are not dependent on members’ level of church involvement. Further, 41% reported having a close family member with a mental disorder which warrants the consideration of family based interventions in church settings.