"Why are you depressed?"
"We provide you with absolutely everything, so why exactly are you depressed?"
The above statement reflects some common misconceptions about the black community and depression. We are treated as though our feelings are invalid, more often than not, we are indirectly asked to strip our mind off of every emotion or feeling of pain or sadness like you have no right to be depressed. "If our people can make it through slavery, you can make it through anything" they say, like it is a battle of which generation suffered/suffers more, to degrade our depression with screams of how our ancestors made it through slavery.
Many people with depression have suicidal thoughts and suicide rates are rising among some group of Black Americans. Black high schoolers report suicidal thoughts at the rate of 9.8% compared to 6.1% among white teens. 3.2% of black youth reported suicide thoughts while 1.4% of black youth attempted suicide as Cited in "Psychology Today.”
Black people have higher exposure to numerous forms of violence including domestic violence, racial discrimination, black family issues which in turn increases their risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
When a black child suffers from depression or any mental health challenge, it is often dismissed or tagged as a “weakness” or “character flaw” as though weakness is illegal or intolerable in the black community. As a result of this, we are more likely to describe emotional distress in terms of physical symptoms, because we would rather have people treat us as sick than “crazy.”
"You should take your troubles to Jesus", they say - and if you feel extreme sadness for too long, then "you should pray to the good lord", "the good lord won't give more than you can bear" and a host of other religiously centered advices, with a splurge of directions on how to read your bible. Trust me, I have heard this way too many times before.
All segment of society stigmatizes mental health disorders but in the black community, there is a gigantic negative stigma surrounding mental health. Rather than seek professional help for conditions such as depression and anxiety, many people in the black community resort to self-medication (drugs, opioids, alcohol) or isolation to solve their problems on their own.
We need to have daily conversations about depression among ourselves, but I believe African-American's lack the cultural vocabulary to do so. Growing up and talking about emotional and mental well-being was treated as inconsequential and was never a part of the routine. You realize that everyone around you including parents did their best to sweep their child's mental health disorders under the rug and went as far as preventing them from identifying with it. In fact, you learn to "hush up" about it!
Up to 35% of suicides result from untreated depression, and depression goes untreated more often in the black community.
Parents, especially black parents, should seriously consider putting their child in therapy if they are struggling mentally or emotionally.
Medical neglect is a term that refers to a child being harmed due to lack of medical care. In the criteria outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, medical neglect occurs when parents understand the medical advice, recommended treatment, which would have significant benefit to the child's health, but still refuses or denies treatment or access to care. Up to 35% of suicides results from untreated depression, and depression goes untreated more often in the black community.
Truth is, getting help is a sign of strength. People with depression are unable to just “snap out of it.” Parents need to be educated that some illnesses still exist
and can cause suffering even if they cannot always see it. To battle depression, parents should be the first respondents. Listen and determine what their child wants from them. It is always a good Idea to encourage your child to engage in some activity that they enjoy. However, if you think your child's depression is not going away, you should seek professional treatment, and the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it can be.
Until recently, it is safe to say that society has paid little attention to the mental health needs of black communities. Therapy has become a growing topic in the black community and people are not ashamed to share their mental health struggles (seriously, look at me! I look forward to therapy every week). Parents in the black community should discard the idea of sweeping the mental health issues of their child under the rug.
Feeling suicidal? reach out to a family member, friend, or call 1-800-273-8255
Feel free to email me any questions comments and/or concerns.
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Until next week,