In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week and Depression Awareness Month, I interviewed Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an associate research professor of Global Health in DGHI whose research focuses on positive mental health, clergy health, and the integration of care within health systems.
In 2007, Proeschold-Bell founded the Clergy Health Initiative, a program developed to improve health outcomes among the clergy of North Carolina. In their first study, they performed a longitudinal survey of nine Methodist churches in North Carolina to determine the clergy’s health status. It was found that the clergy had a far higher obesity rate (41%) than the rest of North Carolina (29%). High rates of chronic disease associated with overweight/obese individuals were also present. The most interesting find, though, was that depression rates were double that of the regional average. Why?
“Being the leader of an organization is difficult, says Proeschold-Bell. Churches are extremely underfunded and are constantly pressed for time. Pastors are expected to do all of the spiritual work that being a pastor entails, and also act as business managers for the church. But, thanks to donations from the Duke Endowment, Proeschold-Bell was able to develop three interventions to improve clergy health. Since then, she’s retrieved ten years of data that has allowed for further improvements in holistic health for the clergy of North Carolina.
When asked about depression specifically, Proeschold-Bell said that “the current model in place to treat depression does not work”. We focus strictly on treating the issue by mitigating its symptoms through an antidepressant, instead of pulling at the issue from multiple roots. She says our efforts should be focused on increasing positive mental health. Positive mental health refers to the presence of positive emotions and good functioning (in both individual and social environments). Work being done by Corey Keyes at Emory has shown that individuals with high positive mental health are less likely to develop depression and chronic disease. By focusing our efforts towards improving one’s overall mental wellbeing, we can get individuals “ahead of the curve” and prevent them from even being depressed in the first place, says Proeschold-Bell.
Further research focusing on positive emotions has been conducted by Barbara Fredrickson at UNC, who suggests that positive emotions have been scientifically proven to increase people’s open-mindedness. Those with more positive emotions have been more willing to try new things and open up to other people, says Proeschold-Bell. These positive emotions connect greatly to one’s ability to be resilient, and there is research to be done in the overlap between possessing these emotions and being able to recover from situations of trauma and conflict that can be mentally straining.
To tackle mental health issues, we must look at them holistically and extensively. Not only do these issues need to be covered from all angles, but they also need to be culturally competent and context specific. Keeping these values in mind, we will be successful interventionists and ultimately improve global mental health outcomes.