KILLING ME SILENTLY: UNTREATED DEPRESSION IN BLACK WOMEN

My focus as a future practitioner is to bridge the gap between the African American community and mental health professionals. I have examined the purpose of why African Americans are skeptical towards seeking mental health services. I focused on depression in the African American community. Depression is treated as a taboo topic in the African American community (Hastings, Jones & Martin, 2015). It has led many African Americans to silently suffer with depression. Many African Americans strongly believe discussing about feeling depressed as a character flaw. The American culture has been partially responsible to why African Americans ignore their mental health. They believe, they do not have time to tend to depression while dealing with daily discrimination in forms of racial profiling, harassment, and prejudice (Hastings, Jones & Martin, 2015). Hastings, Jones, and Martin (2015) found that racial discrimination, stereotypes, and racial prejudice are a possible attributing factor to depression. Research has indicated oppressed groups are a higher risk of psychological disorders than those belonging to the dominant culture. In Current Problems in Human Relations, we examined how an acculturative process can cause unbearable stress to ethnic groups resulting in severe mental illness. Locke and Bailey (2014) explained how African Americans who experience threat toward their racial identity and culture values position them to be at risk for suicide because of acculturative stress. As mental health practitioners, it is our duty to empower consumers and advocate for them because these environmental influences are compromising their mental health.

Another factor of African American women’s vulnerability to depression is ignoring their trauma (Williams, 2008). In the African American community, many African American women have been victims at childhood of familial molestation. Despite if the parents are aware; it is expected within the family to keep it a secret. The trauma African American women experience comes not only in depression but in other manifestations, such as, overeating, drug use, lashing out, and overspending. This community have expected African American women to shelve what happened to her, carry too many responsibilities, put her needs last, and keep moving. According to Williams (2008), the African American community values their women more when they are selfless. She is valued more and expected to take care of everyone else but herself. Her selflessness and self-negligence puts her at risk for severe psychological disorders and medical ailments. Many African American women in the community are overworked, undervalued, and under pressure. While interning, I met an African American woman who was brought in by law enforcement because she was experiencing suicidal ideations. As I was performing a pre-screening interview, she appeared guarded and ashamed. She stated, “We, Black people do not come to get help here when we are going through hard times. We go to God to fix it or to our family.” Williams (2008) mentioned how African Americans are taught to not discuss their problems outside of family and God. The consumer explained she works two full-time jobs, single mother to four girls under eight years of age. The more we processed, she disclosed her hopelessness, overworking herself, and using street drugs as a coping mechanism. It is important for professionals to educate consumers on how untreated depression or any psychological disorder makes it difficult for a person to manage their everyday life and daily pressures (Kubany, 2004). In conclusion of her evaluation and assessment, the practitioner made a provisional diagnosis of depression.  Yalom (2009) mentioned the purpose of therapy is beneficial for the consumer if the counselor enters accurately into the consumers’ world. If we set our biases to the side and fully emerge ourselves into our consumers’ lives we can really see who they are and become empathic. I believe practitioners should not fully rely on a diagnostic measure because it strips each consumer’s individuality and uniqueness (Follette & Ruzek, 2006).

As a Black woman, we have to be able value and make it a priority to have self-care. It does not mean that we are selfish but it means we need to take care of ourselves. It does not make you weak to seek help. It does not lower your value as a woman that you have to say no to certain tasks. It means you love yourself, you value yourself, and you know yourself.

References:

Follette, V.M. & Ruzek, J.I. (2006). Cognitive-behavioral therapies for trauma. New York: Guilford Press.

Hastings, J.F., Jones, L.V., & Martin, P.P. (2015). African American and depression: Signs, awareness, treatments, and interventions, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Kubany, E. S. & Ralston, T. C. (2008). Treating PTSD in battered women. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Williams, T. M. (2009). Black pain: It just looks like we’re not hurting. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Yalom, I. (2009). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. (2nd ed.). New York: Harper Collins.

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Cicely Johnson