Objective: African Americans underutilize traditional mental health services, compared with white Americans. The authors conducted a systematic review of studies involving church-based health promotion programs for mental disorders among African Americans to assess the feasibility of utilizing such programs to address racial disparities in mental health care.
Methods: A literature review of MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and ATLA Religion databases was conducted to identify articles published between January 1, 1980, and December 31, 2009. Inclusion criteria were as follows: studies were conducted in a church; the primary objective involved assessment, perceptions and attitudes, education, prevention, group support, or treatment for DSM-IV mental disorders or their correlates; number of participants was reported; qualitative or quantitative data were reported; and African Americans were the target population.
Results: Of 1,451 studies identified, only eight met inclusion criteria. Five studies focused on substance-related disorders, six were designed to assess the effects of a specific intervention, and six targeted adults. One study focused on depression and was limited by a small sample size of seven participants.
Conclusions: Although church-based health promotion programs have been successful in addressing racial disparities for several chronic medical conditions, the literature on such programs for mental disorders is extremely limited. More intensive research is needed to establish the feasibility and acceptability of utilizing church-based health promotion programs as a possible resource for screening and treatment to improve disparities in mental health care for African Americans.