Abstract: Mental Health Referrals from Religious Communities (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Mental Health Referrals from Religious Communities

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Brooks Zitzmann, PhD, Assistant Professor, The Catholic University of America, Mandeville, LA
The number of mental health professionals (MHP) in the United States and the use of their services has increased in recent years (Andren & McKibbin, 2018). The severe mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020) highlights the ongoing importance of mental health supports. Despite increased access, MHPs are not the first people to whom many turn for mental health support. For religious individuals, it is more likely that they will go to a faith leader for support before they seek help from a MHP (Andren & McKibbin, 2018; Hays, 2018; Jang et al., 2016). Even with changes to the American religious landscape, the majority of Americans continue to identify as religious (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2012; U.S. Census Bureau, 2012), making faith leaders—including clergy and lay leaders—critically important for linking individuals to mental health care. However, we know little about faith leaders’ referral practices, and existing literature shows considerable disparities in referral practices.

This study explored mental health referrals of diverse faith leaders. Researchers utilized thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) of interview data from clergy and lay leaders of diverse faith traditions (N=78) in South Texas and the greater Washington, D.C. area. We found faith leaders often serving as gatekeepers to mental health services despite considerable variation in referral practices, preferences, and resources. Findings illustrate several models for referrals and various ways for clinical social workers to partner with faith communities. Additionally, potential challenges to partnerships including historical discrimination and stigmatization are discussed indicating the ongoing need for both spiritually and culturally sensitive mental health services to support the faithful when in need.