Posted March 26, 2008 – Most people understand how they feel when they are sad or blue, but don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be depressed or diagnosed as having a Major Depression.
If you are an African-American or other ethnic minority, there is significant evidence to suggest that your health care provider may be less likely to recommend that you see a therapist or take an anti-depressant.
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The end result may be that you fall in the category of 75 percent of Americans who are untreated or under-treated for depression. Major depression if not treated can worsen every chronic medical condition like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The difference between being sad and depressed can be thought of in three ways. The first is time. If you have a depressed, anxious or irritable mood that lasts continuously for two weeks or more, you should talk to your health care provider.
The second are your thoughts. If you have negative or pessimistic thoughts or have feelings of wanting to end your life, then you should immediately seek help.
Finally, evaluate your overall functioning. If you have trouble sleeping, a lack of interest in work, relationships or sex, confide in your health care provider.
No one contributing factor
Understand that there is not usually one single factor that leads to depression. It is usually a combination of social, environmental, biological or genetic risk factors.
Having a family history of alcoholism or substance abuse and depression can increase your risk of having a major depression.
Women are diagnosed at twice the rate of men. The experience of a traumatic event, physical or sexual abuse, a sudden death, chronic medical problems, poverty, chronic stress, a change in a relationship and loss i.e. job, housing can contribute to symptoms of depression.
There are also medical conditions, like a thyroid imbalance, hormonal changes, or undiagnosed medical illnesses that may present with depressive symptoms.
Black Depression Largely Goes Untreated
A study released a year ago called, “Prevalence and Distribution of Major Depressive Disorder in African Americans, Caribbean Blacks, and Non-Hispanic Whites,” showed that when depression affects African Americans, “it is usually untreated and is more severe and disabling compared with that in non-Hispanic Whites.”
Additionally, only 48 percent of African-Americans with depression receive treatment, compared to the national average of 57 percent for U.S. adults. The study concludes that the burden of mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, may be higher among African Americans than in Caucasians.
Treatment Is Key
Major depression is a treatable illness. It can be treated with the use of an anti-depressant, therapy (psychotherapy) or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Being depressed is not a sign of weakness. The stigma of any mental illness is still prevalent in our community, as celebrity publicist Terrie Williams explains in her popular book “Black Pain.”
Williams, who has lived with depression herself and often gives talks on the battle she and many other African-Americans face when experiencing depression, says “… many African-Americans would rather tell someone one of their relatives is in jail or on drugs before they ever mention mental illness… There is light at the end of the tunnel of depression.”
If you think that you may be depressed, go and talk to your health care provider. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression and treatment options.
Dr. Janet Taylor, a health expert for BlackDoctor.org, is a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Columbia University at Harlem Hospital. She is on the front line battling the emotional and economic impact of mental illness. While living in Vancouver, British Columbia,
BET.com's Renee D. Turner also conributed to this report.
For more on this topic and other health issues affecting African Americans visit BlackDoctor.org. Also, to hear more about depression and to get other resources go to depressionisreal.org