The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

The Impact of Religion On the Mental Health of Black Adolescents

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 11:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Theda Rose, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Sean Joe, PhD, LMSW, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: The relationship between religion the mental health of Black adolescents has not been fully investigated, particularly on a national level.  Religion has been identified as a significant protective factor of adverse outcomes, however, the aspects of religious life most salient for adolescent mental health need further examination. This study utilized a nationally representative sample of Black adolescents to examine 1) the prevalence of religious involvement 2) the impact of religious involvement and religious commitment on adolescent mental health and 3) the indirect effect of religious involvement.

Methods:  This study was a secondary analysis of the NSAL-A, a national probability sample of 1170 African American and Caribbean Black adolescents.  The NSAL-A is characterized as a complex sample survey based on the use of a stratified and clustered sample design, along with sample weights, to obtain the nationally representative sample.  Descriptive analyses were conducted to examine religious prevalence by gender and ethnicity. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to test a priorispecified relationships between measured and latent variables and hypothesized casual relationships among latent variables.  Religion was represented by two latent constructs.  Religious involvement was reflected by religious service attendance, religious service participation, and church related activity participation.  Religious commitment was indicated by choice to attend religious services and choice to participate in church related activity. Mental health was defined by indicators of both positive and negative aspects of psychosocial well-being. 

Results: Descriptive results show that 70% of Black adolescents overall, 74% of female adolescents, and 71% of African American Adolescents attend church services a few times a month or more. 71% of African Americans as compared to 49% of Caribbean Black adolescents are choosing to attend religious services versus being forced to attend by their parents. The SEM model had a satisfactory fit to the data: Χ2(df=54) = 94.051, p < .001, CFI = .95, TLI = .91, RMSEA = .025. In the model containing both involvement and commitment, religious involvement was not directly related to either mental health outcome.  However, religious commitment was positively related to better psychosocial well-being and negatively related to lower psychosocial well-being. Religious involvement was significantly and positively related to religious commitment, thus religious involvement was indirectly related to the mental health outcomes through religious commitment.  

Conclusions and Implications:  The findings suggest that integration into religious life was somewhat important for Black adolescent mental health. Specifically, for these adolescents, the psychosocial benefit of religious involvement was only evident when it was the adolescents own choice to participate. This idea of commitment or choice to attend is important to our understanding of the role of religious involvement in an adolescent’s life and should be further explored in future research. Social work practitioners and program developers can use the study results to inform the development of individual and group level interventions targeted at supporting the mental health of Black adolescents.