Shades of Black: Gendered denominational variation in depression symptoms among Black Christians

Black man with back towards camera facing an empty congregation in a church

When considering mechanisms to improve one’s physical and mental health, practitioners often look to social institutions like the church.

Indeed, the connection between religion and spirituality and mental health is well-trodden territory, with much research suggesting that religious people have better outcomes (they tend to be happier, healthier, and live longer).

More specific investigations, however, have been lacking in nuance. For instance, Blacks are among the most religiously engaged groups in America. Although prior research has explored how religiosity connects to the mental health of Black adults, it rarely examines how social factors like denominational culture and gender identity may influence outcomes. Instead, these analyses often treat Black Christian communities as a monolith, ignoring the cultural variance within this sizable group.

The lines of inquiry in a new paper published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, from researchers at the Cook Center and the University of Connecticut, seek to address this gap. Focusing specifically on a dataset of more than 3500 Black Christians living across the U.S., the authors attempt to assess and understand the varying effects of religiosity on depression for individuals across different denominations, genders, education levels, and more.

Key Findings

  • Unsurprisingly, the researchers detected gaps in the prevalence of these symptoms across a number of these factors. Participants had lower odds of reporting elevated depression symptoms if they were older, more educated, from the South, employed, or more subjectively healthy when compared to participants in the respective reference groups.
  • Studying the intersection of depression and gender also led to compelling results. Gender differences in prevalence of elevated depression symptoms differed by denomination: The gender gap was approximately 2-3 times larger between Methodist men and women than it was for Baptists and Catholics, respectively.
    • The authors suggest that since the gender gaps for Baptists and Catholics were significantly smaller than for Methodists, it may signify that Baptists and Catholics make more gender-neutral distinctions about the acceptability or unacceptability of experiencing depression.
  • In sum, the paper underscores the importance of disaggregating the cluster of all Black religious individuals. Approaching this type of investigation with greater nuance will aid in the treatment of these groups and allow for better outcomes for all.