New Research: African-American Clergy’s Attitude Toward Professional Mental Health Services

New York – African-American clergy have positive attitudes toward parishioners seeking mental health services, according to new research being presented today at the American Psychiatric Association’s Annual Meeting here. Because of their influential role in the lives of parishioners, they can potentially help increase access to mental health care for those in need.

Many people first turn to religious leaders when experiencing a mental health problem, and clergy can play a pivotal role as the gatekeeper for parishioners who seek help. The study evaluated the attitudes of African-American clergy toward parishioners seeking professional mental health services for mental illness.

This quantitative study examined the role of theological beliefs, education and personal experience with mental illness as they correlated with clergy’s attitudes toward seeking professional mental illness services. Approximately 98 African-American protestant clergy in Georgia and South Carolina participated in the study. Data was collected using self-administered surveys via e-mail and postal mail using the Religious Attitude Scale and the Attitude Toward Seeking Professional Psychological Help Scale.

A multiple linear regression analysis found that theological beliefs had a direct effect on the African-American clergy attitudes toward parishioners seeking help. Education or personal experience with mental illness did not impact attitudes.

This research supports the idea that African-American pastors’ attitudes toward congregants seeking professional mental health services are positive. Only one in three African-Americans who need mental health care receive it; barriers to care include stigma, distrust of the medical system and lack of health insurance. The study results show how African-American clergy could have a positive influence in encouraging parishioners to seek mental health care if needed.

Ebony Gaffney, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A. is a psychiatrist with Horizon Behavioral Health in Savannah, Ga. She is an American Psychiatric Association (APA) Fellow. Her medical degree is from Xavier School of Medicine Aruba and she completed her psychiatry residency training at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. She received her MBA in Health Administration from Gardner Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., and she completed her Ph.D. in Public Health from Walden University.

American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,800 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit

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