BUFFALO, N.Y. – Churches and other faith-based communities
are an untapped resource that health-care providers should consider
when suggesting treatment options for African-American and Latina
mothers who have histories of postpartum depression (PPD),
according to the findings of a newly published study by a
University at Buffalo-led research team.
“There is nothing ambiguous about it,” said Robert
Keefe, an associate professor in UB’s School of Social Work
and the paper’s lead author. “Church, religion and
spirituality really matter when it comes to treating mothers of
color with PPD symptoms.”
Keefe’s paper with Carol Brownstein-Evans, a professor in
Nazareth College’s Department of Social Work, and UB doctoral
candidate Rebecca S. Rouland Polmanteer, published recently in the
journal Mental Health, Religion & Culture, suggests an ongoing
need for research and best practices that focus on working with
nontraditional providers and how their services can be reimbursable
under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“Section 10212 of the ACA focuses on allowing the states
to reimburse services provided by faith-based and other
nontraditional organizations in collaboration with traditional
health-care providers. The mechanism for how states will reimbursed
the care hasn’t been developed, so we’re not sure how
those nontraditional services will be reimbursed,” said
“What we do know is that many new mothers of color have
their faith communities to help them in relieving PPD, so
we’re hopeful that we can help health-care providers and
faith-based organizations to work collaboratively to assist new
mothers with PPD.”
Roughly 12 percent of new mothers in the general population are
diagnosed with PPD, but for mothers of color the figure rises to
about 38 percent. Compounding the more than three-fold difference
is that women of color are less apt to use formal services and also
feel less comfortable in their interactions with formal service
“What we have found in our research in general is the
mothers’ interactions with providers are more guarded when it
comes to disclosing personal information about PPD. As a result,
these mothers don’t feel they’re getting much from the
services and have concerns whether traditional providers are
sensitive to their needs,” said Keefe.
“It’s no wonder we have higher rates of PPD and no
wonder why we have worse treatment outcomes.”
The current study emerged from previous
research on the ineffectiveness of formal interventions for PPD
management in mothers of color.
“When we began this study, we didn’t anticipate that
we would find so many mothers reporting how faith-based services
were helpful to them,” said Keefe. “These mothers tell
us they get so much relief by going to church, and by participating
in various faith-based or spiritual practices.”
The researchers interviewed 30 participants who had experienced
PPD symptoms. All but three spoke of their faith definitely
helping to overcoming the symptoms they were facing – and the
others spoke of a need to start going to church.
“As we began the interviews and began to hear the stories
of faith and church we started talking with various pastors to ask,
‘What do you make of this?’” said Keefe.
The ministers said their churches provide structure through a
formalized approach to their operations. In fact, many of the
mothers talked about the difficulty they had structuring their
lives because they have so many other things going on.
“When they go into the church they have that structure and
relationships with people who are willing to help and pastors who
are willing to listen.” said Keefe. “As one of the
mothers said to us, ‘I find peace there.’”
The researchers developed and identified six specific themes
based on their interviews: stress relief; feeling valued and less
alone; experiencing gratitude; developing perspective; changing and
developing relationships; preventing self-harm.
“Some of the women talked of not wanting to wake up, but
realized the church mattered and that they mattered as part of the
church,” said Keefe. “They hit a low point, but going
to church, and engaging in prayer, meditation and listening to
sermons or reading the church website, helped them to get
There’s a sense of community with churches and a
willingness to pull people together that’s so valuable,
according to Keefe. It can be as simple as offering a ride,
suggesting stores that offer credit or finding housing
possibilities, things that traditional providers might not be aware
It’s an environment where people get what they need, but
one that also allows them to give something back as well.
“Sharing a social network has a lot of intrinsic
reward,” he said.