Rural African Americans' Perspectives on Mental Health: Comparing Focus Groups and Deliberative Democracy Forums

J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2017;28(1):548-565. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2017.0039.


A number of approaches have been used to obtain community members' health perspectives. Health services researchers often conduct focus groups while political scientists and community groups may hold forums. To compare and contrast these two approaches, we conducted six focus groups (n = 50) and seven deliberative democracy forums (n = 233) to obtain the perspectives of rural African Americans on mental health problems in their community. Inductive qualitative analysis found three common themes: rural African Americans (1) understood stresses of poverty and racism were directly related to mental health, (2) were concerned about widespread mental illness stigma, and (3) thought community members could not identify mental health problems requiring treatment. Deductive analyses identified only minor differences in content between the two approaches. This single case study suggests that researchers could consider using deliberative democracy forums rather than focus groups with marginalized populations, particularly when seeking to mobilize communities to create community-initiated interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Community Participation
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Literacy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Health / ethnology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Racism / psychology
  • Rural Population*
  • Social Determinants of Health / ethnology
  • Social Stigma
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology
  • Young Adult