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De-stigmatising depression in the black community

11/05/2012

By Akilah Holder, BA, MA

A former depression-sufferer myself, I know only too well the signs and symptoms of the disease; and I also know the pain of the rejection and marginalization that I felt from relatives and others upon their finding out that I was ill. It made the road to recovery all the more difficult. Through this familial rejection and scorn, and through this societal rejection and scorn, I have become aware of the hostility and paranoia within the black community as it regards depression (and mental illness more broadly). This degree of hostility and paranoia is unpardonable and disgraceful.

Author Therese Borchard in her article “Black and Depressed: Two African-American Women Break Their Silence” writes that, “the stigma and prejudice toward mental health issues in Black communities is especially thick, making it very difficult for persons suffering from depression or anxiety (or any mood disorder) to acknowledge it, let alone seek treatment. ”

In fact, she makes note of the postulation by Raymond DePaulo, Jr MD, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, that while statistics show that white Americans have a higher rate of depression than African Americans, this may only be so because of the failure of African Americans to report their depression. Thus, there is a general phobia in the black community towards depression (some may question the relevance of the above to Trinidad and Tobago, but Trinidad and Tobago is no stranger to slavery).

Where black women are concerned, “seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of ‘the strong black woman‘, who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family, and neglecting her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, ‘We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.’ I was so hurt and angry by that statement. African-American minister, scholar, activist, and writer, Dr Monica A Coleman made this statement. For emphasis, some years ago the black comedy Girlfriends satirized the issue of depression in the black community when one of the female characters responded to another female character’s statement that she needed to see a psychologist, that ‘black people don’t go to psychologists, they go to church“.

Her statement suggested that there was and still is a stigma in the black community as regards mental illness and that black people are not vulnerable to it. According to her logic, it is a disease unique to white people. This is not the case.

Conclusively, depression is taboo in the black community and affects the ability of many black individuals to come forward. When these women suffer in silence, they are likely to take their own lives because of not receiving treatment or counseling.

E-mail: akholder22@aol.com

See full story in Trinidad Express

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