Term Paper: Depression in African-American Adolescents Etiology

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[. . .] Minority adolescents thus are more stressed by social and cultural factors than are (in general) whites but tend to have fewer resources available to meet these challenges. This results both from culturally derived biases against counseling that exist in minority communities and partly from the fact that minority families are likely to have fewer resources to pay for counseling or to have the kinds of jobs that include family counseling as a benefit (Goldston, 2003).

Sexual-orientation also plays a role in social reactive depression, although not necessarily in the direction that one might think. Common sense might suggest that gay and lesbian youths might be at greater risk for suicide than heterosexual adolescents are because their sexual orientation places them into yet another social minority category. However, this is not always the case, as Crawford etal (2002) found that in some cases bisexual and gay African-Americans youths actually had higher levels of self-esteem and lower rates of stress than did heterosexual youths - perhaps because these youths may have received counseling as a result of their sexual orientation or because they have the support of their (gay or bisexual) peers.

Overall, minority adolescent girls are at higher risk of depression than are minority boys because both female gender and minority racial status are - at least indirectly - risk factors for serious depression and suicide. Such increased risk for girls and minorities would, we may assume, disappear relatively quickly if society became free of bigotry and sexism. In other words, while depression will always affect some members of every community, the high rates of depression that attend members of minority communities would in all likelihood be substantially reduced if the social conditions that prompt such depressive reactions were removed. However, any possibility for treatment must be based on a complete understanding of the causes of depression in a particular community.

Treatment of Depression Tied to Knowledge About the Disorder

The first step in treating depression is not unlike the first step in treating alcoholism: The person who is afflicted must admit that he or she is in fact in need of help. This is difficult for the alcoholic because he or she may want to avoid the dangers of alcohol but may not want to stop drinking. And it is difficult for the person suffering from depression because such an admission may simply take too much energy.

This is why the intervention of others may be essential to save the person suffering from depression. In many cases, the person best suited to do so may be a minister. This African-American Baptist minister who works with at-risk African-American youths in Kentucky talks about his own work with those who are suffering from mental illness.

I've found that some of the hardest people to help are those who have very serious cases of depression. The problem for them is that they do not have the energy to care about themselves anymore. They are suicidal not just in the sense that they are actively seeking death - and in fact some are while others are not - but because they are no longer connected sufficiently to life.

They have lost the sense of what it means to be fully human, and in my own understanding of the soul, that means that they have also lost sight of what God is. God lies within us, His divinity is a part of us. But people who are clinically depressed cannot see this. It is a form of blindness in them that we cannot blame them for.

They are like infants in this regard. We do not blame an infant for not understanding God's love. And so we must not blame those who are sick at heart. Instead, in addition to trying to help them we must also work to combat the social conditions that lead to such depression. If our young people thought that there would be good jobs for them when they grew up, then maybe they just wouldn't be so hopeless. They're not stupid: They see the conditions of their future all too clearly (Boyer, 2003).

Despite the fact that there are clear social and environmental elements to depression in African-American adolescents - who are responding to depressing environments and the virulence of racism by the rational if terrible reaction of depression. Reactive depression may well require professional treatment, but African-Americans are less likely than members of many other groups to seek treatment because of beliefs within African-American communities about the cause and nature of depression.

The following facts were taken from a National Mental Health Association survey on attitudes and beliefs about depression:

Almost two-thirds of African-Americans believe that depression results from "personal weakness," compared to the overall survey average of 54%.

Only 31% of African-Americans said they believed depression is a "health" problem that can be treated in the same way that other physical or mental health problems can be treated

Close to 30% of African-Americans said they were deal with depression by "handling it" themselves with another 20% said they would seek help for depression from friends and family.

African-Americans are less familiar with the signs that signal depression - such as changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns and increased irritability.

Only one-third of African-Americans said they would take medication described by their physicians for depression, if prescribed by a doctor; 69% of the general population would take such medication.

Almost two-thirds of African-Americans said they believe prayer and faith alone could successfully treat depression some or almost all of the time. While of course the power of faith should not be dismissed or belittled, reactive depression will continue to affect minority communities so long as the conditions in which minorities live and the acceptance that faith urges may even prolong the very conditions that are responsible for depression (after (http://www.nmha.org/ccd/support/africanamericanfact.cfm).

African-American adolescents - because of their race, youth and sometimes sex and gender - are uniquely at risk for depression, including reactive depression in which the conditions of their lives prompt them to respond to the conditions of their lives by withdrawing into depression. A better understanding of the connection between environment and depression for African-American adolescents can help provide the basis for better treatment for this at-risk group.


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