The Catholic University of America

Jan. 15, 2008

Visiting Scholar in Social Work Receives $200,000 Grant

Research Studies Effects of Religious Involvement on African-American Caregivers

From left, Susanne Bennett, Michael Sheridan and Barbara Soniat of the National Catholic School of Social Service

Michael Sheridan, a CUA visiting scholar and director of research at the National Catholic School of Social Service's Center for Spirituality has received a two-year $200,000 grant from the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University - one of seven selected from among more than 230 submissions. The grant is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The grant will fund Sheridan's research project, "Investigation of the Effects and Mechanisms of Religious Involvement on Physical and Mental Health among African-American Caregivers." The project examines the relationship between a caregiver's spirituality and her physical and mental health.

According to Sheridan's research, increasing numbers of family members are the mainstay of eldercare and these individuals are often placed at risk themselves for health problems. She has found this is particularly true for African-Americans who provide kinship care while having multiple stress factors in their lives, including higher percentages caring for children, coping with unemployment, and providing assistance with multiple, hands-on, daily living activities compared to caregivers from other racial groups.

"Understanding the specific mechanisms of religious involvement as a protective factor for this vulnerable population will contribute to knowledge for both health care policy and practice," she says.

Sheridan's study has three goals - to investigate the direct effects of religious involvement and various psychological, social and spiritual mediating factors on physical and mental health among African-American caregivers; to identify the connections that illustrate the relationship between religious involvement and health among this population; and to interpret and transmit study findings for meaningful application in the fields of physical and mental health, social services, hospital chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, congregational nursing and congregational care.

Associate Professor Barbara Soniat and Assistant Professor Susanne Bennett from the social service school will serve as co-principal investigators on the project. Professor of Sociology Sandra Hanson and Professor of Nursing Sister Mary Elizabeth O'Brien will also serve on the research team.

Through face-to-face interviews, the study will examine several aspects of religious involvement (church attendance and level of engagement, organizational and non-organizational religious activities and self-rated religiosity and spirituality) and indicators of physical and mental health. The study also will explore a number of other factors that may influence the relationship between religious involvement and health, including caregiving intensity, caregiving burden, caregiving rewards, social support and coping strategies.

Sheridan will work with six community service providers to recruit study participants. Providers include: Homecare Partners, D.C. Caregivers' Institute, Iona Senior Services, Downtown Cluster's Geriatric Day Care Center, Washington Hospital Center's Medical House Call Program, and Washington Hospital Center's Washington Cancer Institute.

"Study findings from this community-based, collaborative research project are expected to significantly expand our understanding of the role of religious involvement in the well-being of caregivers and help us address the many challenges in health care today," Sheridan says.

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