Branching out: Religion-based mental health promotion

This student blog post by Bridgett R. Boxley from the College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology School, Prairie View A&M University addresses mental health promotion among faith communities. 

A variety of health disparities are evident in many communities. This includes general medical and mental health treatment underutilization and disproportionate rates of illness. Some of the variance seen is best explained by institutional barriers to treatment as well as cultural norms that are counter to western medicine. For example, stigma plays a major role in hindering treatment seeking behaviors amongst minority populations (Gary, 2005; Shim, Compton, Rust, Druss, & Kaslow, 2009). Additionally, institutional barriers in the form of disregard for symptom complaint and cultural incompetence of health workers make for poor experiences in those who do seek treatment (Ibaraki & Hall, 2014; Ofonedu, Belcher, Budhathoki, & Gross, 2017.) It is important that we clinicians evolve to address the growing complexity of populations and need of treatment.

The social-ecological model of health and health promotion first developed by Bauer and colleagues (2003) describes the dynamic interaction between social factors in one’s own environment. The environmental levels range from micro (individual) to macro (society). The best socioecological model based health intervention would reach the individual within his or her system environment across multiple levels (e.g., individual, interpersonal, institution, community, socially). For example, a campaign seeking to improve HIV awareness can deploy individual education planning; free health screening within the community; and lobby for finds directed to free healthcare agencies (e.g., Planned Parenthood).

According to the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, interdisciplinary, multi-faceted approaches should be utilized to make the largest impact on health development (Stockwell, et al., 2010).  The areas included in the interdisciplinary effort are environmental structure health opportunities, environmental process health opportunities, system structure health capacities, and system process health actions. Each of the health promotion action phases is composed of four single direction phases. The phases go from assessing, planning, implementation, and lastly evaluation. According to the World Health Organization (2004), mental health treatment promotion efforts should address problems and determinants within at least two socioecological environmental spheres. For clinicians, the church poses an opportunity to research and involve the client, community, and family in a positive, rapport based environment. To date, Church Based Mental Health Treatment (CBMHT) has demonstrated promise in increasing mental health treatment seeking behaviors in late adulthood and geriatric populations (Brown, et al., 2006; Campbell, et al., 2007; Sloan, et al., 2016.) Additionally, there CBMHT and religious programs have a long standing history of success with the treatment of addiction across many population (Brown, et al., 2006).

Future research may do well consider a population based examination of disorder prevalence, attitudes toward mental health treatment, utilization, and resiliency. Although this post discusses mental health from the perspective of minority communities, religiosity and spirituality are almost universal concepts that seem to transgress a vast number of social boundaries such as age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status (DeHaven, et al., 2004).  Collaboration with these community pillars is an invaluable opportunity for the field of clinical psychology and psychology at-large.

Author Bio

Bridgett R. Boxley currently attends the College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology School, Prairie View A&M University for clinical psychology Ph.D. Bridgett previously attended University of Texas at Dallas school of Behavior and Brain Science for a master’s in applied cognition and neuroscience.


Atdjian, S., & Vega, W. A. (2005). Disparities in mental health treatment in US racial and ethnic minority groups: Implications for psychiatrists. Psychiatric Services, 56(12), 1600–1602.

Brown, D. R., Scott, W., Lacey, K., Blount, J., Roman, D., & Brown, D. (2006). Black Churches in Substance Use and Abuse Prevention Efforts. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 50(2), 43–65. Retrieved from

Campbell, M. K., Hudson, M. A., Resnicow, K., Blakeney, N., Paxton, A., & Baskin, M. (2007). Church-based health promotion interventions: Evidence and lessons learned. Annual Review of Public Health, 28, 213–234.

DeHaven, M. J., Hunter, I. B., Wilder, L., Walton, J. W., & Berry, J. (2004). Health Programs in Faith-Based Organizations: Are They Effective? American Journal of Public Health, 94(6), 1030–1036.

Gary, F. A. (2005). Stigma: Barrier to mental health care among ethnic minorities. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 26(10), 979–999.

Hays, K. (2018). Reconceptualizing church-based mental health promotion with African Americans: A social action theory approach. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought.

Ibaraki, A. Y., & Hall, G. C. N. (2014). The components of cultural match in psychotherapy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 33(10), 936–953.

Love, D. R. (2011). The role of the Black Church in fulfilling the therapeutic needs of the African American population: A review of the literature. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. ProQuest Information & Learning. Retrieved from

Ofonedu, M. E., Belcher, H. M. E., Budhathoki, C., & Gross, D. A. (2017). Understanding barriers to initial treatment engagement among underserved families seeking mental health services. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(3), 863–876.

Shim, R. S., Compton, M. T., Rust, G., Druss, B. G., & Kaslow, N. J. (2009). Race-ethnicity as a predictor of attitudes toward mental health treatment seeking. Psychiatric Services, 60(10), 1336–1341.

Sloan, D. H., Peters, T., Johnson, K. S., Bowie, J. V., Ting, Y., & Aslakson, R. (2016). Church- based health promotion focused on advance care planning and end-of-life care at Black Baptist churches: A cross-sectional survey. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 19(2), 190–194.

Stockwell, T., Reist, D., Macdonald, S., Benoit, C., & Jansson, M. (2010). Addiction research centres and the nurturing of creativity: the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, Canada. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 105(2), 207-15.