Black America Urged To Confront Depression

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Experts in mental health, Members of Congress and other prominent African Americans converged at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 2007 Annual Legislative Conference to shed light on issues surrounding "Black Women Surviving Unmet Mental Health Needs." Rep. Julia Carson (D - IN) together with the Depression Is Real Coalition hosted this special session with keynote speakers Eddie Levert, legendary singer of The O'Jays, and Terrie M. Williams, mental health advocate and acclaimed author.

Eddie Levert, for the first time, passionately lent his voice and visibility to the cause of mental health in Black America and demonstrated his commitment to speaking out about the effect of depression as witnessed and experienced in his family.

"Black women have always taken care of us -- their men, their children, and their community. I have seen first-hand the damaging effects of depression, and it's past time we support our women and educate the black community to recognize depression for what it is -- a medical illness that is nothing to be ashamed of," said Levert.

According to a survey conducted by Mental Health America, 63 percent of people in the African American community believe depression is a personal weakness, while only 31 percent believe it is a medical health problem.

"One thing about black women is that they are survivors," said Rep. Carson. "But we need to do more than survive -- we need to solve a growing crisis among black women who remain silent about this disease in an effort to appear strong. I want black women to find the healing they deserve which will help our families and communities prosper like never before."

"Black women are significantly impacted by mental health problems and yet are reluctant to acknowledge that depression is a serious, biologically-based disease," said Altha Stewart, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Foundation, a founding member of the Depression Is Real Coalition. "Depression can be especially devastating because it is linked to other medical conditions experienced by black women in high numbers, including obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. And, left untreated, depression can be fatal. We need to do all we can to encourage black women to confront their depression and ensure they get the health care they need."

Depression disproportionately impacts black women:

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-- Depression among black women is almost 50% higher than it is among white women.

-- Of black women suffering from depression, only 7% receive treatment compared to 20% of white women.

-- Black women are twice as more likely to suffer from depression than black men.

Terrie M. Williams, author of the forthcoming book Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting, commented, "My hope is that black women and all of Black America will take a painfully honest look at a silent killer in its own community -- depression. The worst part is that we ourselves are often unaware that we suffer from depression, or - if we know it - too ashamed to admit it and seek help. And until we address the reality of this illness, many of us can't begin to tear down the other obstacles that hold us back."

In addition to Dr. Stewart, experts who joined today's panel include Rahn Bailey, MD, National Medical Association; Lynne Saunders, National Alliance on Mental Illness; Gina Villani, MD, National Urban League; and Angela M. Burks, JD, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.

Panelists addressed a number of issues surrounding mental health and black women, including health care disparities; depression and its link to breast cancer; workplace depression; the role of families in mental health care; as well as the racism, gender bias, poverty, and social disadvantages women of color experience that can lead to depression and stress.

The Depression Is Real Coalition, a group of seven preeminent medical, advocacy and civic groups, co-sponsoring today's braintrust, has made it its mission to dispel popular misconceptions that trivialize one form of mental illness in particular, depression -- as "just the blues" or dismiss it entirely as an "imaginary disease." Depression affects more than 19 million Americans per year.

The Depression Is Real public education campaign is sponsored by The American Psychiatric Foundation (a philanthropic and educational subsidiary of the American Psychiatric Association), the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Medical Association, the National Urban League and is made possible through the support of Wyeth.

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