I was told I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) when I was 18. PCOS is an endocrine disorder that affects women of reproductive age. The health issue affects a woman’s periods, hormone levels and ovulation.
It wasn’t a shocker. My older sister had already been diagnosed and the syndrome tends to run in families. Aside from the various side effects that are common with PCOS such as obesity, excessive hair growth and fertility issues, the one that bothered me the most was depression.
Depression has been a taboo topic in the black community for years. It’s a hard thing to deny; somebody knows somebody who has tried to “pray the illness away” or has made an excuse like “black people are too strong to deal with those issues”, or even “black men/women who are depressed are weak.” These were common comments during my childhood. Mental illness was unreal. It was an exaggerated issue that cost a lot of money to deal with and, therefore, didn’t need to be dealt with.
Here’s the problem with that. Depression is real. Very real. It’s not a badge of weakness or dishonor, but rather a human disease that can happen to anyone and must constantly be addressed. I started my battle with depression not knowing the challenging road that was ahead of me. The extreme highs and lows and the changes in life that come with being 18 and new to college proved to be overwhelming at the beginning. After researching, finding a therapist on my college campus, working to remove triggers in my life and practicing exercise, I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) how to deal with life with depression.
Sadly, due to stigma and lack of resources, black people go untreated for depression more than any other group in this country. According to Mental Health America, adult blacks are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. Adult blacks living below poverty are two to three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty.
Adult blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than are adult whites, and while blacks are less likely than whites to die from suicide as teenagers, black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers. On average, 8.2 percent of black teens attempt suicide compared to 6.3 of their white counterparts.
Even with these statistics, the overall attitudes are still the same. About 56 percent of African Americans believed that depression was a normal part of aging, while 45 percent believed it was normal for a mother to feel depressed for at least two weeks after giving birth. Forty percent believed it was normal for a husband or wife to feel depressed for more than a year after the death of a spouse. Black women and men deal with unyielding systematic racism, financial burden and social issues that white Americans will never come close to dealing with.
When it comes to treatment, the CDC also found that just 7.6 percent of African-Americans sought treatment for depression compared to 13.6 percent of the general population in 2011. Considering the burden of what it means to be black in this country, the statistics are harrowing.
The impact of depression is particularly overwhelming for black women. Reasons such as shame, embarrassment, and lack of knowledge have all been attributed to black women being virtually ignored in the mental health conversation. That passiveness must stop. Currently, the depression rate among African-American women is estimated to be almost 50 percent higher than that of Caucasian women, yet African-American women tend to not seek help for fear of hurting the family, fear of career failure, and not wanting to appear weak. According to the National Poverty Center, poverty rates for blacks vastly exceed the national average. Those poverty rates are highest for families headed by single women, particularly if they are black or Hispanic. Black women are more likely to be poor, to be unmarried and to parent a child alone, which are all stressors that can contribute to poor mental health, and they are also least likely to have resources like adequate mental health insurance to address problems such as depression.
On my own road with dealing with depression, I’ve visited psychiatrists and remained active with running. Although I haven’t personally tried antidepressants, it’s shown that that it is a viable option for those dealing with extreme bouts of depressions.
As black millennials, we owe it to ourselves to find ways to address our mental health, whether it be through medical treatment or psychiatric health. Even with the current stigmas, we have to rise above the status-quo and dispel the rumor that those struggling with depression are weaklings. We are strong, young and black, and we deserve to be in the best physical and mental shape we can be in. We owe it to ourselves to live healthy lives, and that responsibility lies in achieving mental health.