Depression is a huge health concern amongst African and Caribbean people, they are particularly at high risk , but is almost always stigmatised within black community. The question is why?
Depression is still seen as such a taboo subject within the African/Caribbean community, they are one of the least likely groups to be treated or to seek treatment for depression, they’re also less likely than other groups to even acknowledge it as a serious problem because of the shame and embarrassment that it can cause.
Depression is a different kind of illness that people find hard to understand, it isn’t like being physically ill or injured, which is acceptable in society. Its a hidden illness that effects a lot of people.
According to Mind for better health, depression is “a commonly mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.”
This effects how you feel, think and behave. Its more then just “ups” and “downs” because as we know life isn’t always going to be full of happiness, and its normal to feel sad when a loved one dies, when you’re sick or having financial problems.
But for some the sadness doesn’t go away. There are many causes to depression ranging from negative thinking patterns, biology and genetic factors such as; gender (it affects women more then men), medications, illnesses and situational factors.
There are several different types of depression ranging from; mild and major depression, post-natal depression, bi-polar disorder to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Every year, depression affects more than 19 million people and new research completed by Clinic-depression, says at the current rate of increase, it will be the second most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease.
Growing up, some myths I’ve come across about depression within the black community include “suffering from depression means you’ve committed a sin”, “Take your problems to Jesus not some stranger” and “Black people just don’t get depressed” to mention a few.
Realistically, black communities, including those of a white and black ethnicity, face problems that often affect their mental health. In the UK, they are still more likely than others to experience problems such bad housing, unemployment, stress and racism, all of which can make people ill.
Black men, due to patriarchal ideas of manhood, have a fear of being seen as “emotional,” and can feel restricted from freely sharing what’s bothering them and instead remain silent about their inner conflicts.
Lack of acceptance for black men expressing their emotions is a hurdle to black men. As for black women, they are tormented from a similar issue because they don’t want to be seen as weak.
Also, black women are often seen to be the independent, self reliant women within their communities, so having depression does not fit their ‘mould’.
Marcel Vige, head of equality improvement at Mind, says the figures around black men are high but they are also very high for black women too.”
Mental health census shows that,
- Nearly 5,000 “black” or “black British” people per 100,000 accessed mental health services in 2014-2015
- 12.7% of those in contact with mental health and learning disability services spent at least one night in hospital that year. That’s more than double the percentage in the white population.
The usual coping method adopted by African/ Caribbean people in the UK include using informal resources like the church, family, friends. Using minsters and physicians for treatment rather then mental health professionals. It seems as if religion may be regarded in the black communities as some form of treatment. Or in most cases, ignoring it.
It could be seen that black people often disregard depression and are the lowest group to seek medical help, as more research from Mentalhealth.org shows people from black ethic groups in the UK are:
- more likely to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital
- more likely to experience a poor outcome from treatment
- more likely to disengage from mainstream mental health services, leading to social exclusion and a deterioration in their mental health.
Also, African/Caribbean people are also more likely to enter the mental health services via the courts or the police, rather than from primary care, which is the main route to treatment for most people.
Why, you say? Well, Kathryn Hill, who works for the mental health foundation offers some insight on this and believes that “many people don’t trust health services…[l]ots of people won’t use health services until they’re very unwell because they’re frightened of what will happen. This means they’re more likely to be in worse health by the time they do seek help.”
Not getting the right treatment for depression could possibly lead to problems such as alcohol and drug abuse or even suicide. For every 1000 people that commit suicide, 800 of them are men.
Artefact recently caught up with Birmingham university student, Francis (not his real name), who is British-Ghanian and has been suffering on and off with depression since the age of 17. Francis opens up about his depression,
“Thinking back, I guess what triggered my depression was the fact I got severely ill, I had tumours growing on my face and neck during secondary school, got them checked out and I was diagnosed with cancer.”
“When I think back, I started to get really dark thoughts, thoughts about if I actually wanted to be alive, and then after weighing up the pros and cons of living, I genuinely thought I’d be better off dead at times. I’d act out of character and just stay in my room all day and not talk to people.
“I’d do careless things like be rude to people who didn’t deserve it, started gambling and had an appealing diet that consisted of pure junk. I can’t describe it but there’s like an empty feeling you get, and it would just make me feel worthless. My depression comes and go, at the most it would last for two days straight.”
When asked about seeking medical help, Francis proceeded to explain that he had never thought “Because I’m depressed I’m going to seek medical help. At the time, I never regarded it as a proper illness if I’m honest.
“I refused to seek help or talk to anybody when I was younger because I didn’t know how to open up to anyone. But now, at 21 I feel the same. I don’t believe that there’s a cure for depression, even with taking medication or talking about it, it eventually comes back. I just think its something where you just try to get on with life the best you can.
“I haven’t exactly told my family about my depression either and I don’t think I ever will tell them. Its not because I’m scared to but because I don’t want them to have to worry about me, I know that they care about me a lot and I’m not worth more stress. I’d rather carry the bane of my depression by myself, I’m so used to it now.
“I feel like depression isn’t my fault. I believe in Yin and Yang, good and evil, light and dark etc. So the same way that people were born to endure greatness is the same way some of us are born to suffer greatly. That’s the way i view life and I’ve come to accept it.”
On the subject of family and community, we asked if he thought depression was an issue that is often ignored or brushed off amongst the black community, he said: “I most definitely think depression is stigmatised within the black community, not just depression but a lot of mental illnesses are because a lot of black people believe in mental strength and tend to discard any emotion thats deemed to be ‘weak’, so things like depression get brushed off and not regarded as an actual problem.”
Depression is a real illness, with real symptoms. Here are just some of the symptoms of depression;
- A lasting feeling of sadness and hopelessness
- Lost interest
- Feeling constantly ‘tired’
- Avoiding contact with people
- Loss of appetite
- No sex-drive
- Complaining of various aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of sleep
Featured image by StillStressed