Black Boys' Blues
When I decided to develop this topic, the question that came to mind was “do black men suffer from depression?” The answer is, YES. The “blues”, “sadness”, “anger” and “worthlessness” are all terms that describe and lend itself to DEPRESSION. Why does depression appear to be a taboo topic especially in the African-American community? Is it because black males are socialized to “man up” and not discuss their problems or because they are taught that any expression of emotions is a personal weakness and could jeopardize survival. Stigmization of mental health problems in general keep African-Americans from talking about the problem but most importantly, seeking treatment. The issues of socialization and stigmization have left depression in African-American men largely underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed, not acknowledged or just ignored. While depression is a clinical disorder there are various forms of depression, reasons why depression exists and how it manifests in men. Three common forms of depression are major depression, dysthymic disorder (dysthymia) and minor depression. Major depression is the most severe form of depression. Men who suffer from major depression will experience symptoms that will interfere with every facet of their life including but not limited to the ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy activities and hobbies. Major depression may appear once in a person’s lifetime but can have several episodes. The next form of depression, dysthymic disorder can last up to two years but the symptoms are less severe than major depression. Last is minor depression, similar to dysthymia but less severe symptoms and the symptoms do not last as long.
Most common causes of depression are linked to genetics, brain chemistry, hormones and stress. Genetics and brain chemistry coupled with stress presents a recipe for severe depression. What we know is that men are faced with stress on a daily basis. There are major issues affecting our communities and black men such as unemployment, impoverished living conditions, homelessness, drugs, crime and violence, teenage fatherhood, high school drop-out and police brutality/incarceration to name a few. Black men are faced with societal issues without having the support they need to cope with it. I often wonder how many black men are so depressed that it is masked by ANGER. Without the adequate support and resources, anger turns into violence. The type of violence that causes men to commit serious crimes including homicide or the other dark side… suicide. With pressing societal issues, more and more black men are prone to developing depression. Often it is difficult to gather statics about the number of men who suffer from depression because many are reluctant to report for fear of stigma or do not receive treatment due to lack of health insurance or mistrust in “the system”. As a result, there has been little research done on black men and depression. But we know that this problem exists whether reported or not so what can be done?
Education, education, education! We need to educate men about this disease. One way to alleviate the stigma associated with depression is through education. Normalizing depression as if it is just like any other chronic medical illness such as heart disease or diabetes. We need to not only educate but change people’s beliefs about depression. Often when we think of depression, we often visualize someone as “crazy”, “deranged” or even “suicidal”. This view is perpetuated by what we see in the media which is often a negative portrayal of depression. Normalizing depression means talking about it. Ladies this means offering support, understanding, patience and encouragement to your male love one. Talk to him, listen carefully for any comments about suicide and most importantly encourage him to see a doctor or mental health professional. Where can he go for help? You can start with your family doctor. They can refer you to a mental health professional. You can also find mental health providers through your insurance carrier. Many publicly-funded mental health centers offer low cost or free treatment for those without insurance. With proper diagnosis and treatment, depression can be overcome.
National Institute of Mental Health
American Psychiatric Association
(800) 273-TALK (8255)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)