Depression Often Goes Undiagnosed Among African-Americans

Depression Often Goes Undiagnosed Among African-Americans

Blacks are more likely to not be diagnosed with or treated for depression and other mental health issues than white Americans — with grave consequences, including much higher suicide rates.

Published December 29, 2011

When it comes to talking about depression in our community, there is a lot of stigma and silence surrounding it. How many times have we heard the following?

Depression is a "white-person problem." You can just pray it away and everything will be fine.  You just have the blues, it will go away. Only weak-willed people let stuff get them down.


These attitudes stand in our way of seeking the help that we need. This bias is also prevalent among our own doctors, a tendency which also plays a role in our mental health falling through the cracks. Over the years, dozens of studies, including a recent one conducted at Rutgers University, have concluded that Blacks are more likely to not be diagnosed with or treated for depression and other mental health issues than white Americans.

And depression is serious, especially when it comes to Black youth.

Depression can lead to risky sexual behaviors, failing grades, substance abuse, poor health, ending up in the criminal justice system and even suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), across a recent 15-year span, the suicide rates among African-Americans between the ages of 10 and 14 have increased 223 percent, compared to an 120 percent increase among white Americans; children in foster care have an increased chance of developing mental illness (and Black youth make up 45 percent of children in foster care); and imprinsonment can increase one's chance of developing mental illness — and African-Americans make up almost 50 percent of the prison population in the U.S.

Now add in the impacts of racism, gun violence and poverty, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that so many of us have experienced, or will experience, depression in our lives.

But do you know the signs?

Symptoms of depression may be different in younger people than adults. They state that adolescents living with depression experience symptoms of irritability, anger and self-criticism more than feelings of sadness. NAMI states that other symptoms are:

•    Sleeping more often
•    Loss of interest in fun activities that was once liked
•    Loss of interest with friends
•    Appetite changes
•    Concentration issues
•    Hopeless or guilty thoughts
•    Persistent physical complaints — always having to go to the school nurse
•    Suicidal thoughts

Have you experienced these symptoms before?

To learn more about adolescent depression, read NAMI's What Families Need to Know About Adolescent Depression.


BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

(Photo: quavondo/ Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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