Unemployment and Mental Health Literacy: A CRFT Project

Faculty involved: Vetta Sanders Thompson

Four CRFT Cohort III Alumni, Angela McCall, Chavelle Patterson, Gloria Sterling-McGill, and Cassandra Hayes, were awarded a $1,000 grant from The GrassROOTS Community Foundation to conduct community based participatory research among unemployed African American women in St. Louis.

Their project, Unemployment and Mental Health Literacy among African American Mothers in St. Louis County, examined levels of stress experienced by unemployed African American mothers and whether educational materials about the effects of stress related to unemployment improved their recognition of stress, stress management and knowledge of when to seek services.

In St. Louis County, African women have an unemployment rate of 8.6% compared to 3.8 for white women. African American women are increasingly heads of household. In St. Louis County, 50% of African American families are headed by women. Given the high percentage of African American women heading families and the higher unemployment rate among these women, the team sought to understand how unemployment affects their mental health especially since African American women are less likely to seek or receive mental health treatment.

The study sample included African American mothers, 21 to 54 years old, living in St. Louis County who were unemployed but seeking work. Fifty women were recruited and screened at Community Action Agency of St. Louis (CAASTLC) or CAASTLC events from June to August 2016. Participants eligible to participate completed the informed consent process, a pre-survey, watched a 2 minute educational video, completed a post survey & received a mental health & community resources packet. A 4-week telephone follow-up survey was completed. Participants received a $15 gift card as an incentive for participation. The Washington University in St. Louis IRB approved the study. Vetta Thompson, PhD, of the Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities (PECaD), supported the pilot project as the primary faculty advisor.

The majority of the women reported having experienced at least one of the 7 stress symptoms since being unemployed. Most of the women also reported having experienced at least one of the 13 mental health warning sign/symptom from stress since being unemployed. Mothers reported concerns about changes in children’s school performance and disobedience and aggression. Over half of participants did not report using mental services for signs or symptoms of mental health concerns, suggesting the need for stronger interventions to support African American women’s mental health literacy and use of mental health services.

The team presented the study findings at the Institute for Public Health’s 9th Annual Conference at Washington University School of Medicine in 2016. [Unemployment and Mental Health Literacy (PDF)] The team is currently working with Dr. Thompson to publish study findings.