Whenever I discuss mental health and wellness in the Black community, I always highlight the topic of depression. The clinical term as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is “Major Depressive Disorder.” This topic is very important to me because just like every other community, Black folks get depressed too! Yet in 2019, there is still a lot of stigma and shame around this topic. Concepts like the “Black Super Woman Syndrome” and “Real Black men don’t cry” are keeping many of us from getting the mental support we need. Similarly, beliefs such as “you don’t have enough faith” or “you are saved enough” are preached in many of our churches. Well-meaning saints are creating shame and guilt for those who continue to suffer in silence. We must get more informed about mental illness, mental health and depression.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health “an estimated 16 million American adults—almost 7% of the population—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. People of all ages and all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds experience depression…” Yes, that includes Black people!
May I set the record straight? Depression is not weakness or failure but rather a medical condition and disease. As we begin to understand it better, we can then recognize the signs and encourage our families and friends to seek treatment when required.
Let’s start with the most common question, “What causes depression?” According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not exactly known what causes depression. As with many mental disorders, a variety of factors may be involved including the following:
- Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
- Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
- Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or several other conditions.
- Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.
The next question is, “What are the Symptoms of Depression?” The Mayo Clinic also explains that depressive symptoms are more than just “the blues.” It is two weeks or more of the following:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, with even small tasks taking extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
As we begin to understand that major depressive disorder is a medical condition, we can allow ourselves to get professional help. We can no longer suffer in silence but instead get the treatment to help us thrive and create our best selves.
- Call your doctor or mental health professional.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Text CONNECT to 741441
- Therapy for Black Girls Directory https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/therapist-directory/?
- Therapy for Black Men Directory https://therapyforblackmen.org/find-a-therapist/
Natalie Graves is a licensed clinical social worker and an expert in the area of mental health and wellness for athletes. Graves owns a private practice (Natalie Graves Athletic Counseling) specializing in this discipline. To book Graves for media interviews or speaking engagements, call 773-294-3903 or send an email to [email protected]. For more information, visit www.nataliegraves.com.