Abstract: "Permission to Rest": Spirituality As an Intervention to Address the Mental Health of Middle-Class Black Women during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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"Permission to Rest": Spirituality As an Intervention to Address the Mental Health of Middle-Class Black Women during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Estrella, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Gabrielle Aquino-Adriatico, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Eshwar Ranganath, High School Diploma, Undergraduate Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Phylicia Allen, Doctoral Student, Member, University City, MO
Priscilla Kennedy, MSW, PhD Student, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Nina Tahija, LMSW, LCDC, Research Assistant, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Quenette Walton, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Background and Purpose: There have been more than 79 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States since the end of January 2020 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). Over 969,000 COVID-related deaths have been reported in the United States and research has found that more women are dying from COVID-19 than men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022). More narrowly, Black women are dying at higher rates (Rushovich et al., 2021) and are more likely to suffer from COVID-19 related complications (Chandler et al., 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought many mental health consequences such as increased anxiety symptoms and elevated depressive symptoms (Vindegaard & Benros, 2020; Huang & Zhao, 2020; Hart & Han, 2021; Almeida et al., 2021). Emerging research has found that individuals are coping with the pandemic to combat feelings of isolation and fear in various ways (Chirico, 2021). As a coping strategy, spirituality has historically been used to help address physical and mental health stressors (Koenig, 2012). Spirituality is conceptualized as a morality-oriented intellectual connectedness with the self, others, and the universe guided by a connection with the Transcendent and Superior (Sadat Hoseini et al., 2019). However, little research has been conducted on how spirituality has been used as a coping tool among Black women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, this study focused on how middle-class Black women have used spirituality as a coping strategy during COVID-19.

Methods: Forty-three in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with Black women 21 years of age and older who self-reported having had experiences with COVID-19 and racism and self-reported middle-class status based on their education level, income, and occupation. Women were recruited using participant driven sampling methods (snowball sampling), social media outlets such as Twitter, and emailing flyers to various social groups that predominantly served middle-class Black women (e.g., Black female sororities and Black female professional organizations). Interviews focused on questions that elicited the women’s perspectives on how they created meaning regarding their experiences with coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, analyzed, and coded using the constant comparative method of grounded theory.

Findings: Narratives from middle-class Black women revealed that spirituality is one of the primary coping strategies used during the pandemic. Three themes about how Black women navigated the pandemic emerged from our results: (1) spirituality as a grounding technique; (2) praying as a healing mechanism; and (3) the impact of family on spirituality. The role of spirituality in the coping process of middle-class Black women suggests that spirituality acts as a mental health intervention.

Conclusion and Implications: Middle-class Black women are often neglected in research, yet the mental health inequities they experience highlight the importance of finding solutions to support their mental health. Results of this study suggest that spirituality can be an intervention to help meet the mental health needs of middle-class Black women. More research on utilizing spirituality as an intervention is recommended to better support the mental health of middle-class Black women.