The Walking Wounded

Depression is a debilitating medical condition that affects blacks as it does no other group. Left unchecked it can affect much more than your mood—it can ruin your health

depression and one of the most common forms, decreases quality of life, impairs mental acuity and occupational and emotional functioning, and robs sufferers of experiencing their full potential. Usually precipitated by a traumatic life event or other trigger, an episode of clinical depression may occur only once in a person’s lifetime. But more often, it is a persistent, ongoing experience, with episodes that last for up to two years and that worsen without treatment.

Women are more likely to suffer from depression, but men have a higher rate of completed suicide. Although whites experience major depression more than blacks over their lifetimes, it tends to be pervasive and more debilitating for blacks, according to a two-year joint study by Harvard, Wayne State University, and the University of Michigan.  Successful treatment is challenging because of blacks’ reluctance to take medication. What’s more, while it’s obvious that depressive conditions affect temperament and disposition, it’s not widely known that these conditions directly impact hormonal functions including the regulation of blood pressure and glucose levels. Ignoring signs of depression could affect your health in ways you might have never imagined.

A Devastating Condition for Blacks

Chronic depression and bipolar disorder are two well-known forms of depression. Also called dysthymia, chronic depression is characterized by two years or more of a depressed mood. Less severe than major depression, it does not typically interfere with an individual’s life. Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is a complex mood disorder that alternates between periods of clinical depression and those of extreme elation or mania. With bipolar 1 disorder, sufferers have a history of at least one manic episode with or without major depressive episodes. With bipolar 2 disorder, sufferers have a history of at least one episode of major depression and at least one mildly elated episode.

Stymied by fear of stigmatization, mistrust of health professionals, financial constraints, and the lack of access to appropriate healthcare, blacks tend to quietly carry the burden of depression. Causes of depression can be complex and multilayered—directly related to past personal challenges and/or compounded by collective experiences related to racially tinged slights and discriminatory acts. As a result, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depressive disorders are less likely to be diagnosed in black people. The 2001–2003 Harvard, Wayne State, and Michigan study—one of the largest psychiatric epidemiological studies of blacks in the United States to date—indicates that of the 3,570 African Americans surveyed, 10.4% suffered from major depression over their lifetimes and 56.5% suffered from it for 12 months within their lifetimes. For the 1,621 Caribbean blacks surveyed, those numbers were 12.9% and 56%, respectively.

These percentages are compounded by the fact that black people manifest specific symptoms that are often misunderstood, ignored, or misdiagnosed, suggests Dr. Patricia Newton, medical director of Baltimore-based Newton & Associates, which specializes in behavioral medicine.

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    Thank you for covering this very important topic of “Depression” as it relates to Black Americans. The title “the Walking Wounded” grabbed my attention. Afterall, so many of my federal colleagues who seek to expose racial discrimination suffer from generalized anxiety disorders, major depression, post- traumatic stress disorder and other resulting health problems due to years of being subjected to a hostile work environment. Even in this “new racial era”, hundreds of thousands of public servants face workplace discrimination and retaliation for reporting civil rights injustices. I, too, have suffered. I have experienced the sadness, the social withdrawal, and many of the symptoms addressed in the present article. Years of lengthy litigation (class action against the U.S. Department of Commerce) and work-place ill-treatment with no managerial accountability takes its’ toll. It leaves one feeling empty. A very dear friend of mine, a retired U.S. Marshal, who proved discrimination against the Department of Justice’s Marshal Service, was left to litigate his case for roughly 25 years (a quarter of a century). In the end, he prevailed. However, the exposure of racism and protracted litigation caused injury that no amount of money can ever compensate for.

    In an effort to give my personal pain, PURPOSE, I founded the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C). It serves to provide informational and spiritual support for Black public servants who bravely expose civil rights violations. It also serves to address race discrimination in the federal government thereby improving the administration of public goods and services. Our members are brilliant and educated present and former public servants, who find therapeutic value in helping others and society. Our members recently submitted a report to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health. Within the coming months we will post our report on the C4C, Inc. website at
    Tanya Ward Jordan, Founder
    The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C)

  • Ninette Allen

    I understand what the people in the article went through. I have had cases of depression all my life. Your past affects the present and future of your life. I had to come to grips being abandoned as a child without loving affection from my family. Understand your problem(s) that cause the depression by getting help and confronting it head on by talking about to anyone that will listen including yourself. Love yourself and always be positive no matter what. As long as you are able to open your eyes everyday, it is a great day!!

  • Thank you so much for writing this article and writing about my cousin, Stephen, from Cloumbus, GA. His mother was my first cousin and we loved her as we love him and always wanted to do something to make him feel better and to some how make his pain go away. It (derpession) which has followed him for all these years now has a name. We pray that now that he knows what it is that he can finally move forward. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for featuring him in your article. May God Bless and Keep you and your family in his Grace.


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