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DeSouza, Parker: COVID-19 Church Closures Could Strain Mental Health of African Americans

October 09, 2020
by Jordan Sisson

A new paper by Yale Psychiatry faculty explores how the closure of predominately African American church buildings — or the Black Church — during the COVID-19 pandemic could strain the mental health of African Americans, specifically as they cope with American racism without physical access to their places of worship.

The paper, “Coping with Racism: a Perspective of COVID-19 Church Closures on the Mental Health of African Americans,” was published in the October 2020 edition of the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. It was co-authored by Flavia DeSouza, MD, MHS, Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry, and Carmen Black Parker MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. Parker’s mother, the Rev. Maria Myers Black, MD, is also a co-author.

Black Churches have always served a “historical, cultural, contextual, and scientifically validated role in the mental health well-being of African American communities coping with American racism,” the authors said. And with older individuals in communities of color, especially African American communities, dying disproportionately of COVID-19 due to ongoing societal, racial, and health care disparities, “fear of death and suffering are acutely elevated in Black communities; yet, African Americans have been facing, coping with, and overcoming American societal racism and subsequent detriments to our mental health for centuries,” they said.

Black Churches provide cathartic and therapeutic experiences for worshippers, fostering spiritual renewal alongside mental resiliency, and coping against societal racism, especially for older African Americans, they said. As such, the physical closure of church buildings is likely to cause immediate and long-term detrimental effects on this population, they said.

The authors call upon health care providers to develop appropriate management plans with and for their older African American patients, being mindful of the historical, cultural, and contextual experiences of Black individuals facing medical racism, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it relates to cultural treatment preferences relying more heavily on spiritual interventions.

“Now more than ever, health care providers can encourage older Black patients to prioritize spiritual health alongside physical and mental health,” they said.

“Providers may serve a critical role by simply validating our Black patients’ concerns, by being aware that faith-based interventions exist with scientifically-validated benefits, and by encouraging patients to explore what offerings are available in their communities.”

Submitted by Jordan Sisson on October 09, 2020