Mental Illness in the Black Community
The Science of Depression and Anxiety
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistently low moods and/or loss of interest in activities one found previously pleasurable. On the other hand, anxiety is the body’s natural mechanism of coping with stress, manifesting as a worrisome sensation of what is to come (Culpepper, 2008) triggering a stressful reaction to nonexistent stressors. Other physical symptoms that depressed individuals may exhibit include change in appetite, sleep and memory disturbances, fatigue, and poor concentration spans. Conversely, patients diagnosed with anxiety disorders present with excessive worry, rapid heartbeats, gastrointestinal distress, and sympathetic arousals. Epidemiologically, depression is among the most common mental conditions accounting for over 300 million psychiatric patients globally (Mirzaei, Ardekani, & Dehghani, 2019). Statistics taken in 2013 suggest that an approximate one person in every nine people has at least one type of an anxiety disorder (Mirzaei, et al, 2019). This paper aims at highlighting the science of depression and anxiety and why so many Black Americans experience such symptoms.
There are several risk factors that predispose Black Americans to developing mental disorders. These include factors such as racial discrimination, economic status and income, psychosocial wellbeing, and inadequate access to proper health services (Ward & Mengesha, 2014). Firstly, black individuals in the United States get stereotyped due to the color of their skin. This is one of the key factors resulting in depressive moods among the black community countrywide. Due to this discrimination, the affected individuals are unable to conduct their routine day-to-day activities, some of these involving access to essential services. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these racist acts usually go unpunished which allows the continuity of the terrible vice generation after generation. More recently, strategies to change the narrative have been crafted following the killing of the late George Floyd by Minneapolis police (Banerjee, Vijayakumar, & D'Cruz, 2020). The bringing to justice of such perpetrators would send a message reducing the incidence of racial killings.
Secondly, BIPOC in America, as a minority group are associated with low social economic statuses due to relatively low incomes compared to their white counterparts. Consequently, this results in inadequate funds to sufficiently satisfy their daily needs, subpar housing and community segregation, result in the development of reasonable fears about survival and, hence, persistently low moods (Ward & Mengesha, 2014). Moreover, the high unemployment and underemployment exacerbate the aforementioned fears. The low socioeconomic class also results in this minority’s’ group inability to access quality health care services. With this, they are unable to visit psychiatrists for early alleviation of depressive symptoms in case of any.
Black Americans also suffer from a poor psychosocial wellbeing which predispose them to depressive and anxiety disorders. There is usually a self-stigma or a negative notion created towards accessing mental health among black Americans. Therefore, most of them believe it is a sign of weakness seeking professional help from a psychiatrist or other mental health professional (Watson, Roberts, & Saunders, 2012). Despite the widely believed concept of the black minority group being associated with emotional resilience, they tend to face poor outcomes when diagnosed with mental disorders when compared to Whites.
To sum up, depression and anxiety are mental disorders on the rise resulting in an ever-increasing global burden of disease. Depression is characterized by persistently low moods whereas anxiety is mainly represented by excessive fear of what is to come. The Black Americans are highly predisposed to these disorders to factors like racial and ethnic prejudices, poor socioeconomic statuses due to low incomes, and poor state of psychosocial wellbeing due already existing notions concerning access to mental health care. Thus, policies to alleviate such risk factors should be enacted ensuring the safety of the affected minority group.
Banerjee, D., Vijayakumar, H., & D'Cruz, M. (2020). ‘Beyond the Floyd Narrative’: Reviewing racism through the lens of social psychiatry. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020950773 Culpepper, L. (2008). Treating Depression and Anxiety in Primary Care. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 10(2), 145-152. doi:10.4088/pcc.v10n0209 Mirzaei, M., Ardekani, S., & Dehghani, A. (2019). Prevalence of Depression, Anxiety and Stress among Adult Population: Results of Yazd Health Study. Iran J Psychiatry, 14(2), 137-146. Ward, E., & Mengesha, M. (2014). Depression in African American Men: A Review of What We Know and Where We Need to Go From Here. Am J Orthopsychiatry, 83(203), 386-397. doi:10.1111/ajop.12015 Watson, K., Roberts, N., & Saunders, M. (2012). Factors Associated with Anxiety and Depression among African American and White Women. International Scholarly Research Notices. doi:https://doi.org/10.5402/2012/432321
Clinically reviewed by Monique Knight, LPC