Portrait By Monica Stewart



Black Women and Depression

Depression in Black women is more common than many people realize. Black women are more vulnerable to depression due to a convergence of societal and biological factors such as stress related racial discrimination, sexual abuse, class-ism, poverty, companionship "loneliness" and high prevalence rates of health problems such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Clinical depression is often a vague disorder for Black women. The old adage of "being sick and tired of being sick and tired" is quite relevant for these women, since they often suffer from persistent, untreated physical and emotional symptoms. If these women consult health professionals, they are frequently told that they are hypertensive, run down, or tense and nervous. They may be prescribed antihypertensive, vitamins, or mood elevating pills; or they may be informed to lose weight, learn to relax, get a change of scenery, or get more exercise. The root of their symptoms frequently is not explored; and these women continue to complain of being tired, weary, empty, lonely, sad. Other women friends and family members may say, "We all feel this way sometimes, it's just the way it is for us Black women."     - Barbara Jones Warren

Definition of Clinical depression and the symptoms

An evaluation for clinical depression is recommended if you experience five or more of the following symptoms for longer than two weeks, or if the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with your daily routine:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Sleeping too little or sleeping too much
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain (weight gain is more likely to occur among African-American women suffering from depression)
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don't respond to treatment (such as headaches, chronic pain, or constipation and other digestive disorders)
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Dr. Yolanda Brooks, a Dallas, Texas-based psychologist, cites another reason for minority women's reluctance to seek counseling.

Admitting the Need for Therapy is Like Admitting Weakness

"Women of color tend to look at therapy as a sign of weakness," she says. "Black women tend to present themselves to society as strong, resilient human beings. In my opinion, you can trace this dynamic back to slavery, when a woman had to pretend she was okay when she was actually suffering inside. This characteristic has been deeply ingrained in the African American culture, to its detriment. I don't think pretending to be strong is always good."

Brooks says the stereotype is perpetuated in movies and literature, where mama keeps quiet about her suffering. "Nobody knows she is hurting," explains Brooks, "but when she gets alone behind the closed door, you see that she is physically sick."

Brooks also adds that for some women, black women in particular, admitting a need for therapy is a negative thing and reinforces all that is wrong in their lives.

"Once a black woman decides to seek counseling, she feels she is admitting she is not handling her problems well. She feels that seeing a therapist is validating what she sees as her lack of self-control.

Treatment and Medication

Psychological treatment of depression (psychotherapy) assists the depressed individual in several ways. First, supportive counseling helps ease the pain of depression, and addresses the feelings of hopelessness that accompany depression.  Second, cognitive therapy changes the pessimistic ideas, unrealistic expectations, and overly critical self-evaluations that create depression and sustain it. Cognitive therapy helps the depressed person recognize which life problems are critical, and which are minor. It also helps him/her to develop positive life goals, and a more positive self-assessment. Third, problem solving therapy changes the areas of the person's life that are creating significant stress, and contributing to the depression. This may require behavioral therapy to develop better coping skills, or Interpersonal therapy, to assist in solving relationship problems.

Depression is caused by imbalances in chemicals in the brain and other parts of the body that influence things like mood, sleep, and how much energy we have. Antidepressant medications correct these imbalances. The two most common types are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil. While antidepressant medications have been shown to be extremely effective, many can cause side effects, some of which are temporary. Since different medications affect individuals differently, you and your doctor may need to try more than one before you find the right one or combination.


~ References ~



Back to Literature Menu




~ Tribute to Black Women 2006 ~

Website Design by LAS, USVI