The Black Majority Church: exploring the impact of faith and a faith community on mental health and well-being

Burrell, Rachel-Rose (2019) The Black Majority Church: exploring the impact of faith and a faith community on mental health and well-being. Other thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute.


The study explores interpretations of problems, coping strategies and help-seeking behaviour of black Christians attending a Black Majority Church (BMC). BMCs (Pentecostal churches) are the fastest-growing group of Christians in the UK (Christian Research 2006). At the same time, black people continue to be over-represented in the mental health system compared to their white counterparts; are more likely to be diagnosed as ‘schizophrenic’; more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act and, since 2009, are more likely to be placed on community treatment orders (Mental Health Foundation 2014). A growing body of research exists on the role of BMCs in supporting individuals in distress (Bhugra 1997; Leavey 2004; Edge 2010). The qualitative study examines participants’ perspectives on whether there are links between faith and belonging to a faith community, and mental health and well-being. Fifty-six participants (eleven males and forty-five females) took part in the study. A broad range of BMCs were represented, including New Testament, Apostolic, Independent and Catholic denominations. Eleven focus groups and eight subsequent individual interviews were conducted and transcribed verbatim, data was analysed using Thematic Analysis and Narrative Inquiry. Findings suggest that music, prayer, The Word (preaching, quoting/reading The Holy Bible) and belonging to a church provide a positive sense of well-being. Lack of understanding of mental health issues within the church, distrust, ignorance and leaders lacking adequate training and qualifications were cited as areas impacting negatively on mental health and well-being. Faith in God emerges as central to mental stability and well-being and was considered more effective and appropriate than therapy in some cases. Mistrust and suspicion of psychiatrists and mental health services was expressed by participants, often based on first- and second-hand experiences of the effects of medication, negative encounters, lack of understanding and little or no access to talking therapies. Participants recovering from, or living with, mental health difficulties voiced a wish to be respected, to be treated with kindness, to receive a warm welcome when they attend church services and to be contacted regularly. A culture of acceptance, openness and destigmatising mental health problems, rather than spiritualising and demonising them, was emphasised. Participants stressed that leaders should be better equipped to deal with both the congregants’ and their own mental health concerns. Examples of good practice and in-house counselling initiatives within black churches are identified. Products of the study include: the development of Sozo Therapeuo (N.B. not affiliated to any other similarly worded organisation), a mental health resource to promote, improve and maintain good mental health within BMCs; a therapist directory of qualified counsellors and psychotherapists; bespoke training packages and workshops designed to meet the needs of individual churches; Mental Health Awareness for Churches and Counselling Skills for Pastors training manuals following two pilot training events; Consultancies to churches setting up counselling services, such as Bethel Church, Bristol; ‘Speak your Mind’ radio show host promoting mental health on award-winning Ruach Radio; a church-based therapy forum and a network of church-based mental health champions who have received mental health awareness training.

RRBurrell thesis.pdf - Accepted Version

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