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 personâ€™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.Â Successful treatment is challenging because of blacksâ€™ reluctance to take medication. Whatâ€™s more, while itâ€™s obvious that depressive conditions affect temperament and disposition, itâ€™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 individualâ€™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 multilayeredâ€”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 2001â€“2003 Harvard, Wayne State, and Michigan studyâ€”one of the largest psychiatric epidemiological studies of blacks in the United States to dateâ€”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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