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To be Young, Black and Depressed

Written by: Kaylan Maloney, M.S.
To be Young, Black and Depressed

There has been more acknowledgement, inclusion and research regarding the disproportionate rates of depression, lack of mental health accessibility and lack of individuals seeking therapy due to the stigma that still resides within the black community. We’ve seen the memes floating around social media about how black parents respond to youths struggling with depression. i.e.

Child: “mom/dad, I’m feeling depressed.”
Parent: “depress them dishes!”

We laugh because many of us can relate, but the laugh is also used to hide the underlying feelings of sadness, dismissiveness, and disbelief. Black youths and adults who are struggling with depression or who have struggled, have a difficult time expressing this to their parents or other family members because the above-mentioned meme is all too often, true. So how do we communicate our needs in families who reject mental health?

First, education can be very helpful. Being able to help someone understand what you’re experiencing, the significance of it and how it’s impacting you will allow the listener to accept the reality. Depression can look like:

  1. nearly every day, all-day sadness
  2. significant feelings of helplessness
  3. crying spells
  4. significant changes in eating and/or sleeping habits (i.e. eating/sleeping significantly more or less)
  5. increase in substance usage
  6. thoughts of suicide (i.e. “I wish I was dead”; “I’d rather be dead”)
  7. self-harming behaviors, whether with intent to die or not (i.e. cutting parts of the body with sharp objects, stabbing self, etc.)

Secondly, identifying the level of support that is needed. Levels of support include, but are not limited to, outpatient mental health therapy, Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or a mental health hospital.

Depression doesn’t mean that your life is over or that you’ll never be able to enjoy life as you used to. It allows us, the mental health professional, a starting point to know how to best support you. Thus, allowing us to also educate you and your caregivers as well. Automatic hospitalization does not occur. Hospitalizations are for severe cases, but it is discussed with you and your caregiver(s) first. Being a black youth can experience extenuating circumstances that attribute to depression that other cultures may not experience. But that doesn’t discount your depression. Not everything can be resolved by “just get over it” or “you have nothing to be sad about. Children in Africa are starving!” statements. In fact, you might have noticed that these types of statements may make you feel worse.

My job as your psychotherapist is to help you identify triggers for your depression, identify and utilize healthy coping skills to decrease and/or eliminate depression and provide education regarding depression. I’ll be happy to assist you through depression and any other mental health struggles you may be experiencing.