By Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education
Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR
Rural African Americans are disproportionately exposed to numerous stressors, such as poverty, racism, and discrimination,1–5 that place them at risk for experiencing elevated levels of depressive symptoms.6 Elevated levels of depressive symptoms can lead to a host of negative outcomes, including poor management of chronic illnesses (e.g., hypertension, diabetes), poor social and occupational functioning, and development of clinical depression.7 Although effective treatments for decreasing depressive symptoms exist, structural barriers (e.g., lack of available services, transportation) and perceptual barriers (e.g., stigma, fear of misdiagnosis) impede the use of traditional mental health services within these communities, resulting in a significant unmet psychiatric need. Failure to develop culturally appropriate strategies to provide adequate, timely care to rural African Americans can result in a significant public health crisis.
African American churches have been identified as potential venues for providing depression education and treatment for rural African Americans.8 Within the African American rural community, churches represent a key portal through which as much as 85% of the community can be reached.9 Churches have been used to address physical health outcomes in those communities, but few have focused primarily on addressing mental health outcomes10-11. Through the NIMHD-funded project entitled “Faith Academic Initiatives to Transform Health (FAITH) in the Delta,” our partnership, consisting of faith community leaders and University of Arkansas for Medical Science researchers, conducted formative work in the Arkansas Delta. Data suggested that community members consider elevated depressive symptoms to be a significant unmet need. Furthermore, community members suggested that attempts to improve depressive symptoms should do the following: