African American Depression Intervention
Searching for Solutions
Team members Lolita Scott (l-r), Lashanitta Flowers, UW
Associate Professor Earlise Ward, Corinda Rainey-Moore,
Theo Braden, Tolu Oyesanya, Yacob Tedla and Lucretia
necessarily receive good quality care. The therapist within a short period of time told her that she needed to be evaluated for medication.
And that was a bit disappointing for her because she really wanted someone to talk to, to hear what she was struggling with and then give
her an outlet to be able to talk and process some coping strategies.”
The woman never went back for treatment.
This woman’s predicament inspired Ward to focus on depression and its prevalence in the African American community, particularly
among women. Conducting research on these issues — and other health issues — in the African American community is vitally important.
Historically, the vast amount of health research was conducted using, for the most part, Euro-American subjects. And more often than not,
this skewed the results toward solutions that were relevant to Euro-Americans and sometimes others. Ward wants to change that.
“For a long time, African Americans were not heavily involved in research for various reasons,.” Ward said. “Researchers claimed that
they are a hard-to-reach population. So they were not able to get into those communities to recruit research participants. Within the African
American community, there are negative perceptions about participating in research because of the Tuskegee experiments and other well-
publicized research endeavors in which folks were abused. Researchers came in and got what they needed, but didn’t necessarily
provide any follow-up or care in respect to the research participants. Because of those issues, for a long time, we have not had significant
numbers of African Americans participating in research. So we don’t quite know a whole lot about the effectiveness of different types of
treatment with this particular population. So my line of research is really to look to see, based on the treatments that we have out there,
how are they working with this population?”
Over the next two years, Ward and her staff will be conducting a research study of 200 African Americans, 100 each in Milwaukee and
Madison, to determine the effectiveness of two different group counseling models with African Americans between the ages of 30 and 60
who are experiencing depression. Ward hopes that the results of this study will lead to more effective mental health strategies for African
“It is group counseling for depression,” Ward said. “It is offered over a 12-week period. And so we do require a commitment that people
attend all 12 sessions. The sessions are held once per week. And they are usually 1-2 hours of group counseling that people get for free.
We also try to provide $5 per week to help offset the cost of transportation.”
The study will include individuals who are not currently receiving any treatment. And the treatment they receive for free will be worth
several thousand dollars.
How do you know if you are experiencing depression?
“Within a two-week period or more, if you experience sadness throughout the day or most of the day, you may have depression,” Ward
said. “Excessive crying. Feeling a sense of hopelessness. Feeling a sense of worthlessness. Feeling easily fatigued. Lack of motivation
and not just having the energy to do the things that one might have to do. Over sleeping or not getting enough sleep. Sometimes food or
appetite might also be affected in terms of eating too much or not eating enough. In extreme cases, sometimes people might have suicidal
ideation or thoughts in terms of thinking about ending their life. Those are just some of the most common symptoms to pay attention to.”
Ward is personally and professionally committed to helping the people whom she and her staff see as a part of this study. After going
through an initial evaluation, if an individual doesn’t meet the criteria to participate in the study, Ward and her staff will refer people to
resources that may assist them. And when the 12-week group counseling period is over, they will ensure that people continue to receive
the services they need.
“After 12 weeks, people could be referred to other services depending on how much progress they have made,” Ward said. “And we try to
help people with that as well. We do know that there are folks who might end the 12 weeks clearly in a better place. And we do monitor the
depression so that by the time they are done, we can tell them what the depression is looking like, if it is mild, if it continues to be
moderate or if it is no longer there. In addition to them having corroborating information in terms of how they are feeling. So for the ones
who are in a better place, wonderful. They get to end with us. We do follow-up with people over a certain period of time to see if there is
any long-term effect or change. For folks who continue to be struggling, we certainly encourage them to follow-up and get continued care.
We still keep in touch with them just to get a sense of how they are doing over time.”
This study and her work are her passion and the commitment is beyond a professional job.
“I feel blessed that I have the opportunity whereby the work that I do is consistent with what I believe is my purpose,” Ward said. “And that
is to help people with mental illness. Fortunately I have the education and the training to do the work in that area. But I also feel that my
work is also part of community service.”
And through her service, African Americans may receive better quality care and service in America’s mental health systems.
To find out more about the study or to enroll, contact Dr. Earlise Ward at 1-800-346-5147 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jonathan Gramling
“To whom much is given, much is expected” are words that Dr. Earlise Ward,
newly-tenured associate professor of the UW School of Nursing, lives by. She
has learned much since she moved to Madison from her native Brooklyn,
New York to earn her Ph.D. in counseling psychology. She has learned much
from a practicum at the Mendota Mental Health Institute and from her
involvement in the community through Mt. Zion Baptist Church. And she has
learned much from a conversation she had while taking the bus to the Mental
Health Center of Dane County (now Journey Mental Health Center) for her
“I happened to sit next to an African American woman on the bus who shared
with me an experience on first challenges related to recognizing that maybe
she had some mental health issues going on and needed some professional
help and really struggled with the stigma associated with mental illness in
terms of, ‘Do I seek treatment and if I do what does that say about me in terms
of having a mental illness and the perception in the community is that one is
crazy if they have a mental illness?’ So she really struggled with that.
Eventually she went to see her primary care doctor and she was given a
referral to go see a psychologist. She went to the psychologist and didn’t