For African-Americans, mental health often goes untreated
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Depression rehab

Depression’s easy to write off.

The word sure gets tossed around a lot. Bad day at work? Depressing. Saw a sad movie? Depressing. Cloudy weather? Depressing!

But depression is much more serious than a passing bad mood. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) estimates nearly 15 million American are affected by major depressive disorder each year. Depression’s the leading cause of disability in the United States for people aged between 15 and 44 – and according to the White House Conference on Mental Health, the cause for over two-thirds of the nation’s 30,000 reported suicides each year.

So it’s good to hear that depression is treatable – the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates up to 80 percent of the patients treated for depression show an improvement in a matter of weeks. Unfortunately, most people don’t get treated for depression – the DBSA reports nearly 2 out of 3 people who have the symptoms of depression never get treated.

That’s bad enough for most people, but for black men, the numbers are even worse: A paper published last year in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved found depressed black men “continue to underutilize mental health treatment and have the highest all-cause mortality rates of any racial/ethnic group in the United States.”

Racism, distrust of medical care providers among factors

For the paper, researchers surveyed over 650 black men aged 18 and older from 2003 to 2010. The results showed black men were even less likely to seek psychiatric help for depression than white men. Although the data also showed white Americans tend to experience major depressive disorder at a slightly higher rate than African-Americans, the disorder is more persistent, disabling and less responsive to treatment in black people.

Many studies have shown being the target of racism is psychologically harmful, creating a powerful risk factor for depression in African-Americans. “Microaggressions,” subtle, repetitive forms of discrimination first described by Chester Pierce, M.D., in the 1970s, may be particularly damaging to a person’s psyche.

Additionally, African-Americans have a substantial distrust of health care providers – and with cause. Take the case of the Tuskegee Study. Starting in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service began to conduct a study on the effects of untreated syphilis in black men. A third of the study’s subjects didn’t actually have syphilis. The study was conducted without the informed consent of the subjects – who were simply told they were suffering from “bad blood” – and the subjects never received proper treatment. Originally planned to run six months, the study ended up running for 40 years.

This sad history, in addition to everything from misdiagnoses to cultural misunderstandings, contributes to a community’s avoidance of psychological aid.

Culture and access to insurance also play roles

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has also examined what often prevents African-Americans from seeking psychiatric treatment. Cultural taboos about mental illness can make someone decide to simply “man up” or resort to prayer in response to a problem rather than seek effective treatment.

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau reports 19 percent of African-Americans had no health insurance at all in 2012. Although the Affordable Care Act makes insurance easier to receive, there are still serious gaps in its availability. Also, NAMI points out there is a lack of African-Americans in the mental health industry.

The importance of treatment

Sovereign Health knows how pervasive cultural taboos against mental health treatment can be. We provide a compassionate, nonjudgmental and tolerant environment for our clients, ensuring they receive the effective treatment they need. It’s why we’re a leading provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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