Fewer Blacks Face Depression, But Those That Do Suffer More
> 3/9/2007 10:38:46 AM

According to new research that appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, a team from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that while black Americans experience less depression than their white counterparts, their depression is less likely to be treated and is usually rated as more severe. JAMA's press release describes the work more thoroughly:

David R. Williams, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues assessed the prevalence, persistence, treatment and disability of depression in three racial groups using data from a national survey conducted between 2001 and 2003. Of the 6,082 individuals who took the survey, 891 were non-Hispanic whites; 1,621 were Caribbean blacks, who identify themselves as black and are of West Indian or Caribbean descent; and 3,570 were African-Americans, who identify as black but do not have ancestral ties to the Caribbean. During face-to-face and telephone interviews, participants answered questions about their sociodemographic background and the symptoms associated with depression. Those whose interviews indicated depression were also asked how severe their symptoms were and how much their condition impaired their daily lives.

White respondents reported the highest lifetime levels of major depressive disorder at 17.9%, while Caribbean blacks (12.9%) and African Americans (10.4%) both reported less depression. Of those who reported lifetime depression, blacks had higher levels over the last year. The largest disparities however, were found to exist in the realm of depression treatment, where only 45% of American Americans and 24.3% of those of Caribbean descent reported seeking help for their depression. Nationally, roughly 57% of those diagnosed with depression receive treatment though only 41% of those who qualify for any mental illness diagnosis seek treatment. Finally, in comparison to white respondents, blacks with depression were more likely to rate it as severe to very severe and more disabling.

This study adds another voice to the discussion about the disparities between how different races experience depression, but more importantly, it gives empirical evidence of the lag in depression treatment for African Americans and Caribbean blacks. An earlier part of the NIMH campaign Real Men, Real Depression was targeted specifically at Hispanic men, and as we've discussed earlier, teen suicide has been identified as a problem within the Latin American community. This Harvard research however, highlights that Hispanic Americans are not the only minority group that often suffers disproportionately from depression.

There is no easy solution to the problems raised by this research. We need to continue to fight the stigma against mental health problems and depression in particular. If that means targeting public service announcements at specific groups, that's one idea. But to truly see a change, we need to make sure that everyone understands the nature of mental health disorders and know that help is available. This is again part of an education solution, but making services more affordable and more widely available would also be a step in the right direction.

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