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  • Tanisha Herrin

African Americans and Depression: Dealing with the Stigma

Black depression/mental health stigma needs to stop in order to see progress.

Depression affects millions of African Americans every year. While there are statistics that give a ballpark figure of how many blacks may be dealing with depression, the statistics only give a general idea since many blacks don’t bother to seek treatment. It is likely numbers for black depression are much higher since few don’t take the time to educate themselves about mental health and African Americans. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to put down our community but to see progress when tackling depression, we have to be honest about what is not being done.

There is mention of the stigma of mental illness in the black community blacks are willing to admit, but more action is needed among African Americans because our community as a whole won’t see positive growth. The stigma highlights many negatives within the community that will take time and effort to change.

Blacks have no problem supporting blacks when they drop new music, books, movies and other projects, but for some reason, we can’t get that kind of support when it comes to dealing with mental health concerns such as depression. If blacks expect progress, we can’t keep suffering in silence and ignoring the fact many have gotten used to feeling depressed on a regular basis.

The only way this problem will get fixed is to lead by example with persistent action. And of course, we also need to change our way of thinking and perceptions about mental illness. We can start by doing the following:

Confront Your Struggles and Admit You Are Hurting

Blacks are known for hiding their true emotions by disguising them behind masks. We are used to putting on a happy face or just going on about our business like nothing is wrong when something isn’t right. Just admit your struggles and hurt! Why carry it and allow it to be a burden on your soul? Blacks hide their feelings so much it causes us to get physically and emotionally ill. Black men who are depressed are more likely to keep things bottled in especially when stressed.

We all have struggles, and we all hurt. It shouldn’t matter what someone else thinks. If you feel you can be a better person you need to take the initiative to make things right from within. Admit to what is bothering you and determine the positive action to remedy the problem. The hurt may not be easy to deal with, but any effort made toward healing is significant.

Either Accept Yourself or Make Changes

Black culture is unique, and no other culture compares. We have our own way of doing things because it’s in our blood through tradition. But for many of us, we spend too much time hating on each other instead of admiring or supporting one another. Black women, for example, are too good at this. We’ll tell another black female they look good only to turn around and talk smack behind her back. Or, we don’t bother giving a compliment because we get into our feelings of jealousy. It is one thing to have issues with someone when you’re not getting along. But to say something about someone else that is not going to help them at all is just a waste of time (not to mention wrong). Why waste your energy putting down others when you have things about yourself you don’t like.

Work on improving yourself when you don’t have something nice to say to someone else. Sometimes saying something negative to someone else can put them in a negative mood. Depression affects blacks in such a heinous way I wouldn’t wish such feelings on anybody because everyone deserves to feel good about themselves no matter how they choose to live their life.

Stop Making Excuses for Not Seeking Professional Help

Stop being ashamed of the idea of talking with a mental health specialist! There is a funky misconception with psychotherapy and blacks; like oil and water, it doesn't mix. Sure, it would be great to have more black mental health professionals available that understand what we’re going through, but that is not an excuse to keep from getting help. Having no health insurance is not an excuse either since there are free mental health resources available locally. We have to stop being so conscious about what other people think. It is your life, and no one else can live it for you. This option may be the only thing to help you understand from another perspective on you can make realistic improvements to your life.

Praying about it can help, but God has put people on the earth to help others. If prayer is something you turn to when depressed, ask God to give you the courage to reach out to someone that can help you. Ask God to give you physical, emotional, and spiritual strength to deal with this weakness. Pray for other blacks who are dealing with depression; pray they also get the help they need, so we call all be better servants to Him.

Don’t Shame Others for Wanting to Better Themselves

Shaming others is part of the problem, but at least they are stepping up to do something about it. The stigma won’t go away if we don’t do something about it. They are taking care of business so why judge? If you are genuine in your feelings about caring for others, you won’t let yourself stoop that low. No one is perfect, but we can try to better ourselves with any opportunity that comes along. Instead of rolling your eyes, turning the other cheek, or acting as if you are too good to care, give credit where it is due. Acknowledging others when they take a major step toward self-improvement deserves respect.

Encourage Other Blacks to Be Proactive

We need more focus on how the black community can come together to help itself. Talking about the stigma creates dialogue, but we need to keep things moving with action. People can have intentions to do something but if no action follows don’t expect change. Are their local or online mental health advocacy groups you can support? Educate yourself about depression and how it affects African Americans. Share information about black depression you found helpful to others. Donate time and money to organizations exercising advocacy for black mental health. Do your part to get rid of the stigma. Everyone young and old in the black community depends on it.

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