Methods: Data for this study was drawn from the National Survey of American Life. The analytic sample includes 755 African Americans age 55 and older. Multiple characteristics of family and church relationships (e.g., frequency of contact, subjective closeness, and receipt of emotional support), everyday discrimination, psychological distress (measured by the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale) and depressive symptoms (measured by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale) were assessed. Negative binominal regression analyses were conducted. Interaction terms between discrimination and social relationship characteristics were created to test the stress buffering effects of family and church relationships.
Results: Discrimination was positively associated with psychological distress and depressive symptoms. An interaction between discrimination and frequency of contact with family indicated that among respondent who reported high levels of discrimination, family contact was not associated with psychological distress. However, among respondents who reported low levels of discrimination, family contact was positively associated with psychological distress. An additional significant interaction between discrimination and subjective closeness to church members indicated that among respondents who reported high levels of discrimination, subjective closeness to church members was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. Among respondents who reported low levels of discrimination, subjective closeness to church members was not related to depressive symptoms.
Conclusions and Implications: This study contributes to the limited literature on the role of family and church relationships in coping with discrimination among older African Americans. With regards to psychological distress, rather than revealing a stress-buffering function, findings were consistent with the resource mobilization perspective of social relationships, indicating that when individuals experience high levels of both discrimination and psychological distress, they are likely to reach out to family member for assistance. Conversely, findings relevant to depressive symptoms suggest that high levels of subjective closeness to church members can buffer against the harmful effects of discrimination on depressive symptoms. Findings from this study indicate that extended family and church members are important relationships for older African Americans in terms of coping with discrimination and provide important information for developing and tailoring interventions to groups that would benefit most from stress coping resources available via family and church relationships. Continuing efforts to target interventions toward specific client groups enhances their effectiveness and appropriateness and may be of particular relevance and benefit for mental health interventions involving older African Americans.