National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week: Racial bias major cause of depression among African-Americans - Sovereign Health Group
Articles / Blog
05-10-17 Category: Mental Illness

“The stress of living a life in a black body is agonizing. The overwhelming sense of dread is dragging me deeper into the abyss of despair,” said a desolate 23-year-old Alyssa Walker (name changed), a resident of Fillmore District in San Francisco. Walker believes that the pain and trauma of subjugation run in her DNA, from one generation to the next, leaving an indelible imprint on her psyche. Her childhood and formative years were shaped by narratives of racial bigotry and bias, which her grandmother endured in an impoverished black neighborhood.

Walker’s grandmother echoed the sentiments of many African-Americans who lived and grew up in a white, patriarchal society, where their ability to put up with racism without displaying any emotional reaction was viewed as a measure of strength. Despite a number of studies attributing depression in African-Americans to the rising stress levels surrounding them, the truth is African-Americans are still not immune to any sort of psychological trauma resulting from racial discrimination if any.

The stigma surrounding mental health problems is a serious concern in the black American community. A man is not expected to express any sort of mental agony as it would be perceived as a sign of weakness, which is one of the leading reasons why African Americans are hesitant to seek professional counseling and mental health services.

In the wake of the National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week, Mary Guardino, founder and executive director of Freedom From Fear, a national not-for-profit mental health advocacy association, has insisted that the authorities should look beyond the color of one’s skin and extend help and support to all sections of society suffering from anxiety and depressive disorders.

Why do African-Americans avoid professional treatment services?

Over the decades, innumerable instances of racial discrimination, have pushed the African-American community to interpret racist tendencies as occasions to display superior resilience thereby creating a trust deficit. Both, historical as well as contemporary experiences involving maltreatment have created a sense of distrust, especially of authorities in some cases, who are considered as individuals opposed to the best interests of African-Americans.

“Why should I talk to a stranger?”, “What would an old White doctor know about my problems?” “They’ll call me mad and lock me up!” “But, the pastor has been praying for me,” “Where can I find a good Black counselor?”… are some of the questions which erupt in the minds of African-Americans considering professional treatment for depression.

Ashton (name changed), a bright and promising high school student from downtown Los Angeles, was only 15 when his mother died. The loss was irreparable and coping with life soon became an immense burden. On a friend’s suggestion, he decided to speak to a mental health specialist in his neighborhood who prescribed an initial dose of medication to treat his depression.

But, his father who was a Presbyterian Church minister and some of his relatives weren’t happy with this move. Fear of being labeled as psychologically abnormal and exposed to overmedication prevented Ashton from going ahead with the much-needed treatment.

Talking about vulnerabilities and wounds was viewed as a feminine trait in his community. Besides, his mind was full of agonizing accounts of patients who sought mental health care services from insensitive therapists. Years of multiple failed attempts to self-medicate including alcohol led him to hit rock bottom before he finally took the plunge to seek professional counseling for his condition.

Owing to age-old stereotypes, prior experiences of discrimination and perceived profound insensitivity to black cultural traditions, even today many African-Americans, like Ashton, dread seeking professional treatment. Instead, a lot of people depend on spirituality for complete healing, say experts. Besides, the high rate of the uninsured African-American population is another factor preventing them from seeking mental health services.

Barriers preventing African-Americans from seeking mental health care services

African-Americans share the same mental health concerns as the white majority but with greater stressors due to discrimination and economic differences. This places a greater emphasis on service providers to identify the barriers that prevent the community members from availing culturally competent services:

  • Racial barriers: The vast majority of African-Americans have grown in a non-supportive environment where poverty, crime, unemployment, scarce educational opportunities, hostilities toward non-white communities and negative media images are intrinsic elements.
  • Distrust: African-Americans attribute their distrust of the medical establishment to certain racist attitudes, past or present. The reasons can be traced to the historical abuses of black slaves.
  • Therapist-centered barriers: There is a possibility that therapists may be colored by bias arising out of prejudice, and ethnic and racial stereotypes affecting the therapeutic relationship in a negative way.
  • Ethnicity: On the whole African-American therapists are underrepresented in the field of psychology. Moreover, even in a scenario wherein a black patient is seen by a black therapist, the client is most likely to experience fear of inability to relate with the therapist due to differences in education, class or life experiences.
  • Exceptional barriers: While painting all African-Americans with the same brush may seem easy, those treating Black professionals may face challenges as they might not understand the layers of difficulty such patients’ experience.

Unfortunately, depression is not viewed as a chronic condition

Dealing with different types of mental disorders and understanding what causes mental illness in ethnic minorities can be a daunting task requiring a sensitive approach to prevent any kind of discrimination. Despite tremendous progress made over the years, instances of racism still continue to impact the mental health of African-Americans in a significant way. According to the Office of Minority Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), adult African-Americans are 10 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than their white counterparts.

Despite the availability of several effective options for treatment of depression, the stigma of being branded as a weak person prevents many African-Americans from seeking professional treatment for depression. However, studies show that professional help with depression and support of family members go a long way in eliminating the stigma associated with the illness. Many such individuals experiencing bouts of anxiety or depression tend to assume that antidepressant medications are the only solution. But, very few know that other alternate therapies for mental health such as exercise, acupuncture, psychotherapy and membership of support groups also go a long way in combating afflictions of the mind.

Above all, an early diagnosis from a reputed and professional mental health services provider is essential to nip the problem in the bud or else they can be immensely devastating. Sovereign Health is one of the leading mental health institutions in the United States, which provides mental health treatment services for all kinds of mental health disorders including time-tested recuperative therapies for depression as well as personalized help for depression.

Sovereign Health of San Clemente, California offers a variety of customized options for depression suited to treat the person holistically. Patients can opt for individual and group psychotherapy or alternative therapeutic activities to regain control of their lives. Whether you wish to know how to overcome depression or are looking for world-class rehabs for depression in California or at a place closer home, we have facilities in all major places in the country. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our representatives to know about the most effective treatment for depression.

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