Friday, September 21, 2012

Black Women & Depression

It looks like different things to different people. In the end it’s called the same thing… Depression.
As a community, blacks view mental health issues with closed eyes. It is seen as the issue that we deal with and don’t address. When someone says counseling the answer is always, “I am not crazy”. And that is definitely a true statement however it doesn’t mean that you do not have issues that couldn’t be addressed with counseling.
We all go through things in life that if they continue without intervention they can become too much to handle. What happens then…. We break!
“Fantasia Barrino’s recent confession of her suicide attempt sparked a realization that black women are as susceptible to depression as anyone else. When asked about her recent suicide attempt, she explains “I was overloaded with carrying six years of so much…dealing with my family, dealing with my father, dealing with men and their bullshit…” I think we can all relate in one way or another. While her “so much” and (y)our “so much”may not be identical, people feel overwhelmingly inclined to pass their issues off to black women—assuming we can handle it stoically—because we have been doing it for generations” – Crunk Feminist Collective
I will give the disclaimer now; I am not discounting the strength of my white sisters, however I have never experienced life as a white woman, just as they have never experienced life as a black woman. So though we share a gender our experiences are colored differently.

And the history of the black woman has been one of self-sacrifice. From their first days on this land they have been treated as property and sold at will. They have raised their owner’s children for generations while their children were sold off like cattle. But they stayed strong. They raised their children over generation without partners. Avoiding emotions was a survival technique which has now become a cultural habit. I use the word “they”and “their”, when I should be saying “We” and “our”.African-American or Black women, however you reference yourself, have had a different and difficult walk in this world; can we say that depression is side-effect or by-product of that journey? Whatever your answer, the one truism is that even the strongest person gets tired; and tired is not a weak emotion it’s a necessary one. We all get tired. However when that feeling is all consuming, over powering or takes over your existence, it is time for some intervention and help. You need to talk to someone.

Most don’t know what Depression looks like; so we will consult the book that the psychologists and psychiatrists use to diagnosis others; the (DSM-IV)  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders identifies Depression as"
296.32 Severe Depressive Mood Disorder (Moderate)
Research has shown that depression is influenced by both biological and environmental factors. Studies show that first degree relatives of people with depression have a higher incidence of the illness, whether they are raised with this relative or not, supporting the influence of biological factors. Situational factors, if nothing else, can exacerbate a depressive disorder in significant ways. Examples of these factors would include lack of a support system, stress, illness in self or loved one, legal difficulties, financial struggles, and job problems. These factors can be cyclical in that they can worsen the symptoms and act as symptoms themselves.

Symptoms of depression include the following:

· depressed mood (such as feelings of sadness or emptiness)

· reduced interest in activities that used to be enjoyed, sleep disturbances (either not being able to sleep well or sleeping to much)

· loss of energy or a significant reduction in energy level

· difficulty concentrating, holding a conversation, paying attention, or making decisions that used to be made fairly easily

· suicidal thoughts or intentions.


Treatment can either combine both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy or utilize one or the other individually. Medications used to treat this disorder include Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, and Zoloft. Other medications can be found, along with their descriptions can be found in the Medications page. Psychotherapy is useful in helping the patient understand the factors involved in either creating or exacerbating the depressive symptomotology. Personal factors may include a history of abuse (physical, emotional, and/or sexual), maladaptive coping skills/ Environmental factors involved in this disorder include, among others, a poor social support system and difficulties related to finances or employment.

Major Depressive Disorder has a better prognosis than other mood disorders in that medication and therapy have been very successful in alleviating symptomotology. However, many people with this disorder find that it can be episodic, in that periodic stressors can bring back symptoms. In this case, it is often helpful to have an ongoing relationship with a mental health professional just as you would a physician if you had diabetes or high blood pressure.

Special treatment considerations for African American women:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI); only 12 percent of African American women seek help and/or treatment. Building and maintaining a strong support network can aid in the recovery and future prevention from clinical depression. Learn from role models to help you distinguish between what you can and cannot control. Many African American women minimize the seriousness of the problem and do not proactively seek treatment. The strength of faith and church supports can supplement depression treatment and reduce isolation. Seek other forms of support to better your mental health. Putting yourself first on the list is essential.

I have family members who deal with this daily. It is not easy to see people you love going through something that you cannot help them with. I make sure that I am there to support them and whenever they need me. I also PRAY WITHOUT CEASING! I know that prayer changes things.

Note to my sistas: Many African American women do not seek treatment because it is viewed as a personal weakness, not a health problem. We all need help in some form, at some point in our lives. It’s not a weakness to say you need help; it takes strength to let someone else help you.

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