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The Black Community and Depression

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9 mins read

In light of minority health month, in what ways do we as a Black community handle depression and what steps can we take to handle it better?

On January 21, 2022, it was reported that Ian Alexander Jr., the son and only child of Regina King, committed suicide at only 26 years old. In an article by the Black Wall Street Times, author Tanesha Peeples stated that amongst the mourning of this tragedy, there did not seem to be a larger discussion about the mental health issues that remain prevalent in the Black community. 

 

“But even more depressing, I don’t think we’re having the larger conversation about how prevalent depression, mental health issues, and suicide are in our communities, especially amongst Black youth,” Peeples states. 

Photo credit: Alex Green via Pexels

The growing pervasiveness of mental health issues in the Black community is not a new issue by any means. As NiEtta Reynolds, mental health professional and host of The Help Show points out, depression can be broken into nine diagnoses, and one that she links to the Black community is post-traumatic slavery syndrome (which, can result in depression according to Sharp), a term coined by Joy DeGruy, which describes “the multigenerational trauma and injustices experienced by African Americans- from the dawn of slavery to the recent deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police.” While Reynolds argues that this may not necessarily trigger the depression itself, the trauma may result in similar symptoms. While she does believe that depression is present in the Black community, it is not present at a higher rate than it is within others, and that regardless, there is not enough knowledge about depression.  

 

“When people say depression, it is an increase, but I don’t think it’s as much as increasing with black with any other communities. What I do know for a fact of that we are not educated about depression,” Reynolds said.

 

When Black people are diagnosed with depression, however, they can be hesitant to receive necessary care because of the distrust in the medical community that has been built over the years. 

 

 “Do, we trust the doctor enough to help us with her, to, to get us, to help me, you know, it’s so much betrayal that has happened to us as a people can I trust this person?  Can I trust Mary, Kelly, or Dr. Kelly,” Peeples said.

Photo credit: USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School

 In a post discussing mental health in the Black community, non-profit organization NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), explains that 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care are able to access it, and Black people are less likely to gain consistent care and are not equally included in mental health research. Black men are also more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when exhibiting symptoms that are more consistent with a mood disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Reynolds states that depression does not necessarily present itself differently in the Black community. 

 

 “We don’t want to believe those diagnoses first and foremost. And, I think that because we’ve been dealing with this (depression) for such a long period of time, it’s almost not believable to us because we normalize those feelings, we normalize all those things. So how can something be critical or how can you forseek, help if you feel don’t need the help that you need because you throw so much of the diagnosis that is supposed to make you not able to work,” Reynolds said. 

 

Clinical Associate Professor at University of South California in the Dworak-Peck school of social work Ruth White backs this, stating in an article on the schools site that given what the Black community has already survived, a diagnosis may be rejected due to a “survivalist mentality.” 

“Much of the pushback against seeking treatment stems from ideas along the lines of: We have survived so much adversity and now someone is going to say that there’s something wrong with us,” said White.

If you are Black, dealing with mental health issues and are concerned your provider may not be addressing your issues correctly, NAMI recommends asking your provider (via their sample questions) how they plan to treat you and if they have a competent cultural understanding.

“When meeting with a provider, it can be helpful to ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural awareness. Providers expect and welcome questions from their patients or clients, since this helps them better understand what is important in their treatment,” NAMI said.

Photo credit: Kimberly Paynter via WHYY

Peeples does find that things are getting progressively better however, though work still needs to be done.  

 

“I think the new generation of parents are making it a lot easier for the black community to kind of explain it. And I think the course, there’s still some lack of education about depression and mental health disorders, but there now is more of the conversation of people asking half of the compensation,” Reynolds said.

An example of a more modern parenting techniques and how they take into account the emotional and mental well-being of the child are gentle parenting, which utilizes a two way, respectful parent-child relationship rather than corporal punishment. Parents.com also has an article in which author Tiffany Eve Lawrence explaining that she has been taking the steps toward better generational mental health by attending therapy herself as well as normalizing the concept for her children.

 

“We have honest conversations about feelings devoid of judgment. By acknowledging their feelings, I attach significance to them. I also look for changes in their behavior that may need addressing,” Lawrence stated. “While our faith is important, we balance it with understanding, so they know God’s provision includes professional assistance.”

 

As for what can be done to help progress the conversation around mental health in the Black community, she suggests more conversations and creating an environment where young people feel more comfortable opening up.

 

“I think having more conversation at the table at the dinner. I think  putting inside a time, instead of like, you know, playing video games, I’m too busy, I’m working through being able to kind of converse with each other about how you’re feeling. I think that being able to tell your, your guardian, your parent, “I’m feeling this way,” for them actually to listen to you and receive it and to help. So I think those are very important for a person. To feel comfortable and to even talk about their issues, honestly,” Reynolds said.

Black Mental Health Resources:

https://www.nimhd.nih.gov/programs/edu-training/byomm/ (for Black men)

https://nqttcn.com/en/  (National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network)

https://translifeline.org/ (hotline for Trans people)

https://therapyforblackgirls.com/  (for Black girls)

https://bwhi.org/ (for Black women)

 

 

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