Black communities in the United States have managed to establish churches that attract huge numbers of people. From a historical background, churches are institutions that offer spiritual support and counseling services, as well as humanitarian support to people. African Americans continue to battle with historical problems like segregation, discrimination, racism, and other forms of socio-cultural injustices. These problems combine with contemporary problems, like economic problems. The question of the role and effectiveness of mental health care professionals and institutions in the United States is raised given that research shows that a quarter of the black American population in the United States has mental problems. The paper argues that the high level of confidence in churches in the black communities, especially when it comes to divine and psychosocial intervention, can be used as a foundation for the establishment of a desirable discourse for detecting and treating mental illnesses.
The paper explores the role that can be played by church ministers in black American communities in helping to detect mental problems and the development of effective interventions for people with mental illnesses. Church ministers ensure they take care of the physical and mental well-being of the congregations to help fulfill the needs of the congregants.
How the historical antecedents affect the choice of mental healthcare services in black communities
History shows that the black church in the United States serves as one of the most important institutions in providing social services to African Americans. The South had huge populations of blacks. Churches in black communities highly engage in the provision of social support services as an extension of history. They also provide mental support services to their congregants. Black churches provide a wide range of social and health services to their congregants compared to white churches in the United States. Despite the wide range of services, there is a low degree of integration between the mental health care providers and the churches. Providers of mental health care can reach the population that is suffering from mental illness with a lot of ease if they link with the churches in the black communities (Blank, Mahmood, Fox & Guterbock, 2002).
According to Suite, La Bril and Primm (2007), it is quite hard to change the historical antecedents on which the perception of the black people about mental health is founded. Therefore, the practitioners in the field of mental health should learn to explore the mechanisms that are important in changing the mentalities and perceptions of the black community about formal mental health services. Practitioners are also required to build from the historical trends and the way these trends are shaping mental health issues in the black communities in the United States. One of these trends is the preference of the black population to seek psycho-social support from the church because they exude a lot of confidence in churches compared to the normal mental health care institutions. More confidence in churches among African Americans means less confidence in the mental healthcare institutions and professionals. Changing such trends is quite hard, but building on the trends can be easy when the stakeholders have ascertained the level of confidence that is exuded in churches by the African Americans (Suite, La Bril & Primm, 2007).
Barriers to effective mental healthcare delivery to African Americans
Dana (2002) observes that racial and cultural identity in the United States and the larger Europe affect the nature of psychiatric diagnoses and interventions. It is one of the indicators of cultural influence as a push factor in the search for mental health services from the formal healthcare institutions by the black people in the United States. Therefore, most blacks still show less confidence in mental health care institutions. Thus, churches in the black communities are in a better position to aid in the detection of mental problems among these communities. The blacks see the churches as neutral institutions (Alvidrez, Snowden & Kaiser, 2008). The delivery of mental health care services to the African American populations will remain to be a challenge until the stakeholders in the mental health care sector come to terms with the racial gap prevailing in the country and its effects on the delivery of mental health care services (Dana, 2002). According to Lowe (2006), most of the barriers to mental health care delivery in the African American population lie in the social gap between the African Americans and the white population. Thus, a policy choice to break the social gap should focus on the preferences of the blacks.
The position that can be occupied by church ministers to enhance mental healthcare delivery in black communities
Research conducted in the United States denoted that ministers in black community churches have the willingness to work together with healthcare professionals to deal with the mental health cases that come out in the recovery and reconstruction phases of disasters. Church ministers in black communities offer a wide range of services to the people who are affected by disasters by utilizing spiritual support and resources. Most of the services revolve around the discharge of psychological support, from which it is easy for the pastors and other church counselors to detect the mental health cases emanating from the recovery phases of disasters. Therefore, the development of meaningful relationships between the mental healthcare professionals and the pastors in the black American communities is a critical step in enhancing psychotherapy in black American communities. High levels of mental distress accompany disasters. Churches are seen as the main source of hope for the survivors of disasters (Aten, Topping, Denney & Bayne, 2010).
According to Ward, Clark, and Heidrich (2009), African American women highly embrace spiritual intervention and counseling as modalities of dealing with mental-related problems. Most African American women do not prefer medical help as a modality of dealing with mental health illnesses, contrary to the white women who highly embrace medical support in dealing with mental health problems. Research conducted by Davis in 2005 showed that approximately 25 percent of African Americans in the United States suffer from mental illness. The percentage is bound to rise due to the socioeconomic distress witnessed in recent times (Clark & Heidrich, 2009). Psychiatric morbidity patterns in the United States show that racial identity is a critical factor in establishing therapeutic relations. Black populations attain a higher sense of belonging by virtue of being part of the black church congregants. The high sense of belonging presents a ground on which the mental health care providers can build foundations of mental healthcare provision in the black population in the United States (Blank, Mahmood, Fox & Guterbock, 2002).
The mental problems in the black communities in the United States come from sociocultural constraints. They then transform into psychological malfunctioning in people. The socio-cultural problems include discrimination, racism, oppression, injustice, and economic constraints. Psychological issues include low self-esteem, which is accelerated by the interplay of sociocultural issues. Linking the observation to the statistics on mental health in the United States, it is critical to note that churches are important institutions in dealing with mental illnesses in the United States. The historical problems confronting the black American population make it difficult for them to develop trust in formal institutions in the country, especially when it comes to mental health. Therefore, the only way through which these institutions can effectively serve their purpose is through developing solid partnerships with the churches in the black American communities. These institutions can offer advice to pastors and church counselors on how to detect mental illnesses and the nature of responses and advice that can be given to the people who seek mental support services in the churches (Ward, Clark & Heidrich, 2009).
Davis (2011) observes that there is a need for mental health care institutions to shift their approach when it comes to the provision of behavioral healthcare services to the black populations in the United States. Most black Americans highly embrace divine support instead of the real search for professional support from the mental health care institutions when it comes to mental health problems. It can thus be said that a vacuum exists in the mental healthcare sector in black communities, which bars the efficient delivery of mental health care services within the black American population in the United States. Thus, one of the means through which the vacuum can be filled is through the embrace of participation. Participation here refers to the development of highly collaborative relationships between the churches in the black communities in the United States and the mental health care providers in the black communities (Davis, 2011).
According to Ward, Clark, and Heidrich (2009), church ministers can play the role of determining cases of mental illnesses within the congregations. The cases can be channeled to health care providers by the church ministers after detecting the mental health problems among the congregants. Healthcare providers can then assess the cases and prescribe the therapy for such cases. Such goals can be easily achieved at the community level where there are closer ties between people and churches when it comes to the search for mental support services. Close collaboration between the church ministers within these communities and the institutions that deal with the delivery of mental healthcare services can help in the development of information mental healthcare networks. It can also improve efficiency in the detection and development of interventions to deal with the cases of mental health among the black American populations (Ward, Clark & Heidrich 2009).
Contrary to the churches in highly urbanized areas, the ministers of the rural churches lack knowledge in psychology and counseling. Thus, it is difficult to detect the complex mental and psychological problems among the congregants, irrespective of the considerable level of trust by the congregants that these ministers can help them in addressing mental health problems (Blank, Mahmood, Fox & Guterbock, 2002). In this sense, church ministers can be empowered with the necessary skills that can help increase their level of awareness of mental health. The increased level of awareness can enable church ministers to effectively screen the people who seek mental support from them. Mental healthcare providers can team with the church ministers to avert the lack of trust by most blacks in mental health care institutions. Healthcare providers can stage psychiatric lessons for the church ministers. The staging of mental healthcare lessons for church ministers increases their competence in the mental health field. It also transforms the church ministers into important resources in the mental health care field. Church ministers can seek help from the mental health care providers and refer some of the severe cases of mental health to the mental health care professionals. Mental healthcare providers are bound to be more resourceful to the black population if this process is followed in handling mental illnesses (Davis, 2011).
The increase in the number of African Americans who keep searching for psychiatric services in churches is a factor that denotes low perception of mental health care and mental health professionals. According to Thompson, Bazile, and Akbar (2004), barriers to access to mental health care by African Americans include a pre-set culture in the African American communities, lack of trust, impersonal service, and problems of cost, among many others. Most people believe that sensitivity to race is a factor that can be ignored, yet it plays a critical role in influencing the choices that are made by the African Americans concerning psychotherapy. Linking the concept to the research done by Davis (2011), it is worthwhile to argue that the African American population experiences a lot of challenges when it comes to the attainment of quality mental healthcare services. Some of the problems are personally generated, while most of the challenges have grown from history. It is vital for stakeholders in the healthcare sector to consider church ministers as direct participants in the delivery of mental health care because churches are the most preferred institutions by the African Americans in terms of mental support service delivery. There is a great need to increase the capacity of the pastors in black American communities to meet the mental needs of their congregants. Enhancing collaboration between pastors and mental health professionals is one of the desirable ways of enhancing the capacity of the pastors to discharge mental health care services (Davis, 2011).
Most blacks seek for psychotherapy unconsciously, which implies that the African Americans seek for these services while assuming that they are seeking for normal spiritual support from the church ministers. On the other hand, the church ministers, mostly in rural churches, lack adequate knowledge to detect mental health problems. Lack of adequate knowledge compounds the mental health cases within the black communities. Collaboration between the church ministers and mental health professionals is critical in the detection of such people (Thompson, Bazile & Akbar 2004).
From the issues in the discussion, it can be concluded that churches in the black American communities have a major role to play when it comes to the enhancement of mental health of the black Americans population. The rationale behind the observation is that African American churches attract huge congregations. Among these congregants are people who seek spiritual support because of the various challenges that engulf their minds. African Americans face a lot of social and cultural problems. These problems are of a structural nature. A substantial number of psychological disturbances emerge in the black American communities when these problems integrate with the day-to-day life challenges. Therefore, a large number of people seek for counseling and psychological support services from the church ministers, besides the search for spiritual nourishment. It implies that the establishment of stronger ties between the churches and mental health care professionals in black American communities is a good strategy for detecting mental problems among the congregants. The establishment of collaboration between mental health professionals and church ministers makes it easy for mental health care providers to offer professional services and reduce the rate of mental illnesses in the population.
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