Black Women and Depression: What You Should Know

May 3, 2011
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Black women and depression. Those two words don’t seem to go together, but for some black women, they do. As you probably know, there’s a stigma in our community about depression. We’re supposed to be “Strong Black Women,” and nothing is supposed to bring us down. And to many, being depressed is a sign of weakness. However, that’s simply not the case. Clinical depression isn’t weakness– it is a very real, common, yet serious medical condition. Although it is highly treatable, misdiagnosis and under-treatment are common, particularly in the black community. Black women often don’t seek treatment because depression is seen as a personal weakness, not a health problem. In fact, only 12 percent of black women seek help and/or treatment.

Since this week is National Anxiety & Depression Week, here is more info about depression:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, clinical depression is a serious medical illness that is much more than temporarily feeling sad or blue. It involves disturbances in mood, concentration, sleep, activity level, interests, appetite and social behavior. While depression is highly treatable, it’s often a life-long condition in which periods of wellness alternate with recurrences of illness. It can be caused by a number of triggers, but people have to realize that it’s not just a “mood” you can “just snap out of.”

Symptoms
Because of cultural backgrounds, depression may be displayed differently among African-Americans, according to the Mental Health Awareness website. If you experience five or more of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks, if you feel suicidal or if the symptoms get in the way of your daily life, visit your doctor.

  • A constant sad, anxious or “empty” mood or excessive crying
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment like headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
  • Irritability, restlessess
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
  • Sleeping too much or too little, early morning walking
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts

Risk factors for black women
Although white women experience depression more often, black and Caribbean women experience greater severity and persistence.

The National Survey of American Life: a study of racial, ethnic and cultural influences on mental disorders and mental health, provided evidence of communities clinging to long legacies of secrets, lies and shame originating from slavery. Avoiding emotions, which was a survival technique, has become a cultural habit for some. Five reasons many of the population held back information on their illness included:

  • Might hurt the family
  • Might ruin their career
  • People might think they’re crazy
  • They can’t afford to appear weak
  • Shame

Additionally, societal issues factor into a higher percentage of black women dealing with depression. Being both female and black can make one more vulnerable to negative attitudes and behavior.

Treatment
The most common ways to treat clinical depression are with antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. The method used depends on how severe the depressive symptoms are and the history of the illness.

Medication. Research strongly supports the use of medication for more severe incidents of clinical depression. Antidepressant medication acts on the chemical pathways of the brain related to moods, and they are not habit-forming. It might take up to eight weeks before you see an improvement; it’s usually recommended that medications be continued for at least four to nine months after the depressive symptoms have gotten better. Those with chronic or recurring depression might need to stay on medication to prevent or lessen further incidents. Additionally, those taking antidepressants should be observed by a doctor to ensure the best treatment with the fewest side effects.

Psychotherapy. This can help teach better ways of dealing with issues by talking with a trained mental health professional. Therapy can be useful during the recovery process. Support group members share their experiences with the illness, learn coping skills and provide information on community providers. Additionally, make sure to take care of yourself by getting lots of rest, exercising in moderation, staying away from drugs and alcohol and eating regular, well-balanced meals. You may also be able to find strength from faith-based or spiritual communities.

For more information about depression, visit nami.org.

Sources:

African American Women and Depression

Depression and African Americans

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Jamie Fleming-Dixon

Jamie Fleming-Dixon is the founder and author of ForColoredGurls.com. Her intention is to empower readers, inspire them to live their most fabulous lives and to motivate them to reach for their dreams and goals. This is done through motivational articles and quotes, interviews with women from all walks of life, posts on topics that affect every area of women's lives and more. For more info about Jamie and FCG, email her at info@forcoloredgurls.com.

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