Religious Support and Black Adolescent Girls’ Mental Well-being

Religion is a key source of better mental health and well-being across the life course for Black Americans. A constant among Black youth and their families, it is also a significant cultural and coping resource for Black girls, who tend to be more religious than Black boys. Attending worship services and participating in other organized religious activities has been shown to contribute to a wide range of positive outcomes, including mental well-being. This may be one significant factor to help us understand how to foster mental well-being among Black girls and the emotional support received from relationships formed within the religious communities that Black girls may access.

Our recent study in the Journal of Community Psychology explores the link between organizational religious involvement (ORI), religious emotional support, and mental well-being for African American and Caribbean Black adolescent girls. We highlight two important aspects of our study. First, we used multiple indicators (positive well-being; mental health problem symptoms) to assess mental well-being which provides a more comprehensive picture of Black girls’ mental well-being. Consistent with recent trends to assess youth mental health broadly,  positive well-being included self-esteem, mastery, and life satisfaction, whereas mental health problems included depressive symptoms. Second, Black youth are not monolithic. For example, Caribbean Black youth may experience religion differently based on their family heritage, culture, and socialization than their African American counterparts. We considered two complementary frameworks. Developmental and ecological theories highlight the critical association of youth-environment exchanges to better youth outcomes, such as mental well-being. Thus, given their cultural or ethnic context, the religious emotional support youth receive, in religious environments, may differently influence mental well-being outcomes, such as self-esteem, for Black girls.

Method. We used data from the National Survey of American Life-Adolescent supplement (Jackson et al., 2004), a nationally representative sample of Black adolescents, to explore the influence of ORI and religious emotional support on their mental well-being. We also tested the mediating role of religious emotional support, and whether these associations were different for African American girls and Caribbean Black girls. We used the full sample (n = 607) of African American (n= 412) and Caribbean Black girls (n=165).

Results. 1) Higher ORI contributed to more religious emotional support for all Black girls. Although ORI for African American girls did not directly contribute to mental wellbeing, it did contribute to lower mastery and less life satisfaction for Caribbean Black girls. This finding could reflect pressure that Caribbean Black girls might experience from increased parental expectation of ORI involvement (e.g., Pearce et al., 2003). 2) Religious support was associated with higher self-esteem, mastery, and life satisfaction for African American girls, but only higher life satisfaction for Caribbean Black girls. These findings underscore that, for Black girls, relationships formed through the receipt of emotional support may be more significant for mental well-being than service attendance and other forms of ORI. 3) ORI contributed to better religious emotional support which resulted in increased self-esteem, mastery, and life-satisfaction for African American girls. On the other hand, for Caribbean Black girls, this association only contributed to life satisfaction.  

Practical implications. First, clinicians might focus on promoting positive aspects of well-being alongside addressing mental health problem symptoms. Second, it is important to consider religious and cultural environments in designing and delivering interventions to promote mental well-being among Black girls. In addition to other sources such as family, peers, natural mentors, and structured mentoring programs, practitioners who work with Black adolescent girls should consider religious emotional support an important source through which Black youth access emotional support. Creating programs and initiatives that integrate religiosity with these and other healthy sources of support may complement efforts to provide culturally relevant programs to promote African American and Caribbean Black girls’ well-being. Finally, clergy and lay leaders who oversee youth programs could offer mental health and well-being education within and alongside faith-based youth curriculums. One way to do this is to form partnerships with faith-based mental health practitioners who can highlight different ways to support mental wellbeing outcomes for the Black girls in their religious communities.

 Blog Author:

Theda Rose, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work. She earned her PhD in Social Work from the National Catholic School of Social Service, Catholic University, an MSW from Stony Brook University in New York, and a BA in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Using an asset-based approach, Dr. Rose’s research centers on assessing and evaluation mental wellbeing, contextual correlates of mental wellbeing and positive youth development among youth of color, and the importance of youth perspectives in research and intervention development and delivery.



  • Jackson, J. S., Torres, M., Caldwell, C. H., Neighbors, H. W., Nesse, R. M., Taylor, R. J., Trierweiler, S. J., & Williams, D. R. (2004). The National Survey of American Life: A study of racial, ethnic and cultural influences on mental disorders and mental health. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 13(4), 196-207.
  • Pearce, M. J., Little, T. D., & Perez, J. E. (2003). Religiousness and depressive symptoms among adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 32(2), 267–276.
  • Rose, T., Hope, M. O., Powell, T., & Chan., V. (2021). A very present help: The role of religious support for Black adolescent girls’ mental wellbeing. Journal of Community Psychology,
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