Still got the blues: Why depression is high among African-American women

Mental health problems do not discriminate and can affect people of all ages, irrespective of their cultures and social groups. However, certain individuals or groups seem to be more vulnerable to the illness due to various factors, like historical adversity, socio-economic condition and cultural beliefs.

Data released by the National Institute of Mental Health revealed that 15.7 million adult Americans were affected by depression in 2013. Studies have found that African-Americans are most affected by depression. A study published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that women (4 percent) are more likely to report major depression than men (2.7 percent). It also notes that African-Americans (4 percent) are significantly more likely to report major depression than whites (3.1 percent).

Stuck in the past

The history of the African-American community is of sheer turbulence that is marked by slavery, racism, cultural alienation, sexual exploitation and civil rights violation. Studies say these factors played a significant role in the psychological development of the community over the ages.

The far-reaching consequences of slavery led to a negative cultural impact, which has now become a barrier to the treatment for depression and other mental illnesses. A research says, mental health problems are higher than average for black women because of psychological factors, which are directly linked to being African-Americans.

The CDC findings show that African-American women are part of the most undertreated groups in the country. Mental health among this community is more stigmatized than any other medical condition. Historically, it has been difficult to treat mental health problems in African-American women. One reason for this is that black women usually tend to minimize the serious nature of their problems. Mental health problems among African-American people are seen as a sign of weakness, not a sickness. It goes against the mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is perceived to be strong and present for everyone in her family.

A report by National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) says African-American women tend to refer emotions related to depression as “evil” or “acting out.” The report also cites evidence of slavery that the community had to go through in the past. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that poverty, parenting, and gender discrimination are some of the broader concerns among a large number of reasons causing depression among black women. According to the National Poverty Center, poverty rates for African-Americans are significantly high as compared to the national average, and highest for families headed by single women.

Coping with depression

Because mental health is considered a taboo in the African-American community and is a matter of shame and embarrassment, black people, especially women, are deprived of proper treatment they deserve. While seeing a therapist is generally viewed as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith, inadequate mental health insurance is cited as another reason for black women not getting proper depression care.

African-American women are more comfortable with using traditional methods of treatments, and there is a strong reliance on community, the support of family, and the religious community during times of emotional distress.

However, with growing awareness there has been a positive change in the outlook among the African-American community towards depression and mental health. So thinks psychologist Lisa Orbe-Austin, who runs a practice with her husband and treats predominantly black women. “I do think our community could use a lot of healing and I do think there’s a lot of potential for psychotherapy in our community,” she was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying.

A number of healing options are readily available, along with potential psychotherapy, which can help African-American women overcome this severe mental condition. With more people understanding the limitations and struggles of African-American community, chances of better recovery options for depression patients are on the rise. For more information about addressing mental health treatment and recovery, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at any time.