Depression: The Black Community’s Dirty Little Secret

Often undiagnosed or ignored, depression afflicts millions. Experts share advice on noticing the signs and confronting the problem

Seasonal affective disorder can strike anyone

Like many of the estimated 19 million Americans suffering from some form of depression, Shanice Watson didn’t realize the crippling mental disorder had grabbed a hold of her until her world began falling apart. Once a six-figure corporate executive with an apartment in the heart of New York City, Watson has had to get by on mostly unemployment insurance since she found herself jobless in the wake of Wall Street’s collapse two years ago—her savings, IRA funds and other rainy-day accounts all but dried up.

Unable to continue paying rent on her nearly $2,000 a month one-bedroom apartment in midtown Manhattan, the 31-year-old now shares a place in Harlem with two roommates, something she has not done since her college days. “It’s been humbling,” she says.

Two weeks ago her boyfriend bowed out of their relationship, fractured, in part, by financial hardship. When he left, Watson couldn’t leave her bed—the latest hit in a domino effect of devastation that had become her life.

“There are days I don’t leave the house,” admits Watson, whose deep general malaise is compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that strikes her each year at the start of winter. She’s lost 10 pounds in the past year and a half and has started smoking again after kicking the habit for several months. She says she “drinks more than usual” and rarely frequents her favorite nightspots. Relationships with her girls have become strained because they don’t understand why their normally confident, upbeat friend doesn’t seek the help of a therapist or take antidepressants to diffuse the funk. But Dr. Elisa English—a mental health professional with a private practice in New York City—does.

Dr. English fights the stereotypes of depression in Black community

“First, there’s the obvious—if you’re unemployed it’s very likely you feel you don’t have the health insurance necessary to help pay for these services,” says English, who reports more than half of her clients are unemployed or otherwise struggling financially. “Then, there’s the less obvious: Black people tend to have a lot of fears around medication. [This is the] residual effect of devastating studies like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, [a clinical study conducted on almost 400 unsuspecting Black men in Alabama to study the natural progression of the untreated STD]. We don’t trust White folks to medicate us unless it’s for something [tangible like] hypertension or diabetes, and many of us don’t trust White people, period—particularly around the issue of mental illness.”

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15 Responses to Depression: The Black Community’s Dirty Little Secret

  1. Lyndon says:

    I’m glad to see someone chose to address mental disorder among black people without placing the label.I’ve always thought the percentage was through the roof. How can it not be with our familial dysfunction, drug abuse, and childhood trauma being so rampant. I agree no one wants to discuss and so many ever go treated. So many of us live in a state of denial and anger that if we don’t face our truth our existence will become one of co-dependance and misery.

  2. yk says:

    medicine should not be the first choice but the last..

  3. Temeika says:

    Our culture of survival often involves secrecy, carefully disguised as strength. But it often takes more strength to expose your pain to others and seek help than to lie silently with it every day.

  4. Pingback: Depression: The Black Community’s Dirty Little Secret | AfroBuzz Central

  5. E. Joyce says:

    We don’t understand that our strength in standing strong and not allowing others to see our pain, what we perceive as our weakness, has become a weakness within itself. I’d often thought of the rampant violence that hit our communities was tied to depression among men and suicide by violence.

  6. ladysuz says:

    After being diagnosed with depression, I spent about 2 years being in denial. A few years ago, I read Terrie Williams’ story in Essence and called a therapist right away. A few “friends” had negative re-actions, however, I educated myself on the subject and I’m doing much better. I still have some rough days & I’m still hesitant to take meds but I’ll be fine. There’s a stigma in the black community about therapy and mental health but my health and well being are more important than any stigma

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  11. sevi says:

    I need to correct a part of your article where you state “I keep a bottle of an antidepressant called Clonazepam for when the blues hit.” Clonazepam is generic Klonopin and a benzodiazepine used for anxiety. It is a sedative, nothing antidepressant about it. Also very addicting, I hope this wasn’t a doctor that told you this about this medication and if so you would do well to confront them.

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