Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent disorders in the US and globally that is both under-diagnosed and under-treated. This burden is heaviest on under-treated minority populations (source). While minority populations are less likely to suffer from acute episodes of Major Depressive Disorder than Caucasians, they are more likely to suffer from prolonged, chronic, and severely debilitating depression with heavy consequences on their level of daily functioning.
Self-perceived racial discrimination, in particular, has been strongly associated with worsening mental and physical health, more so in African American women than in men. By contrast, a strong sense of ethnic identity among African Americans has been shown to be a protective factor against mental illness in these communities. Ethnic identity is defined as a sense of commitment and belonging to an ethnic group. In addition to ethnicity and gender, risk factors such as lower yearly income, socioeconomic positioning, poverty status, and employment are recognized as key risk factors. Unfortunately, due to the systemic injustice these communities face, they are often affected by these risk factors, which in turn makes them more vulnerable for this disorder.
There is a known association between stressful life events (SLEs) and depression. An SLE can be seen in racial minorities from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, whose lives are compounded by racism, communal violence, single-family households, or substance abuse. Minority groups face more SLE’s than Caucasians, which makes them more prone to depression.
It is important to consider the perception among many that racial minorities are somehow more immune to pain than Caucasians, simply because of the challenges minorities face on a daily basis which somehow makes their threshold for psychological pain greater. This false assumption and racial bias is what we need to look more closely into and through clear education and access to more resources we can change that perception. Not only is this perception apparent in society but the overall access to resources is not where it needs to be. At TAD we strongly believe in the education surrounding existing emergency resources available to anyone 24/7 who may be in crisis or dealing with depression.
Given the chronic and often severely debilitating nature of the depression as it presents in African Americans, it is important for society and clinicians in both primary care and specialty settings to be cognizant of these disparities in an attempt to better serve minority communities in need. We continue to work towards solutions that meet the needs of all communities and we intend to continue to talk about depression in a practical and educational manner.
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