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African Americans and the darker side of depression

Many black Americans see depression as a condition or fact of life. If you believe depression is not an illness or is a character flaw most likely you will not seek help.
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Support Worker Visits Senior Man Suffering With Depression

HOUSTON - Depression may be taking a heavier toll on Black Americans as compared to other races. A new study in the Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social work says, “The stigma associated with mental illness prevents many people from seeking treatment, but it has a particularly negative impact on African Americans.”

Unfortunately, stigma and mental illness are partners. Shame and embarrassment surrounding having a mood or anxiety disorder often stand in the way of someone getting help like a wall between a person and their medicine.

Rosalyn Denise Campbell, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work and the publisher of the study says three factors make mental illness stigma more burdensome for black Americans:

  • Many persons of color already feel they are part of a stigmatized group. Adding a mental illness can produce a second layer of stigma
  • Many black Americans hold misconceptions or myths about mental health challenges due to historically and systematically being shut out of health care systems
  • Many black Americans see depression as a condition or fact of life. If you believe depression is not an illness or is a character flaw most likely you will not seek help

Symptoms of depression can include a prolonged sense of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, isolation and a change in sleep or eating patterns. In extreme cases depression can lead to suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt.

Dr. Campbell says depression can be antithetical to black Americans who “come from a culture that prides itself on strength and celebrates how their ancestors have overcome great atrocity” but are not able to pull themselves out of the darkness. Depression can be paralyzing to any race but is treatable for all races. When working with African Americans mental health providers must meet them where they are and help them be strong enough to ask for help.

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