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  The Minority/ Black Health Blog  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Young, Black... and Depressed: Why More and More Teenagers Refuse to Talk About Their Depression

Black Depressed Teenagers

Mental disorders and mental illnesses are not race-specific. They can affect any race, nationality, gender or age. Yet, mental illness is very often stigmatized in black communities. As a result, they often do not seek help as they would with a physical illness. Why?

In black communities, especially amongst young people - particularly teenagers, it is often not OK to talk about depression or other mental illnesses in their lives. Particularly among men, it is not socially acceptable for them to admit or talk about their mental illness. It is considered taboo to admit that they have something mentally wrong. The stigma of mental illness and resulting aversion to seeking treatment is reflected in some startling statistics:
  • Many mental illnesses can be traced to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), such as divorce, neglect and abuse. Adverse Childhood Experiences greatly increase a person's risk of developing a mental illness at some point in their life. Yet, 62 percent of black adults have experienced at least one ACE during their life.
  • There are three times as many seriously mental ill people in prison than there are in hospitals, and half of all prisoners are African-American.
  • Young black women are more likely to self-harm (a form of mental illness) than any other race.
According to Mental Health America, 63 percent of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness. African-American patients are more likely to feel comfortable with African-American physicians. They feel they are more participatory and less likely to mis-diagnose. Yet, in 1998, only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers were African Americans.

Education, starting with teenagers and young ones, is one way to remove barriers to treatment. Fully understanding depression and other forms of mental illnesses and the treatments available can help alleviate the fear or stigma many African-Americans may have about these health care needs. Increasing health care insurance options will also help by providing coverage for effective treatment of mental illness.

To learn about the resources available for African Americans with mental illnesses, visit:
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