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Mental Health: Black Men and Depression

As some of you know, mental health is a very passionate topic for me.  And one demographic and disorder that I feel needs to be targeted is black men and depression.

I think the “be strong always” message is used toward black men to their detriment. A lot are emotionally suppressed and stuffy.  This buildup can eventually lead to some pretty damaging feelings, one of those being depression.  While I believe this information could be the same for all men, no matter the race/ethnic background, I’m convinced that black men just have a bit more to deal with when one factors in things like oppression, etc.

Depression isn’t just “feeling down.”  All of us have our days when we are feeling a little blue or off. Clinical depression is persistent, and can be debilitating. Words/feelings that are associated with it include hopelessness and despair. It’s nothing to make light of.

Which is why I am sharing the following information that was pointed out to me by a reader:

Common signs of depression in men can include (via BlackDoctor.org):

1. Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little

Sleep problems—such as insomnia, waking up very early in the morning, or excessive sleeping—are common depression symptoms.

Guys, this is one of the biggest red flags. I’d argue some sort of sleep issue is present in most people who are dealing with depression.

2. Pain

Health problems such as constipation or diarrhea, as well as headaches and back pain, are common in people who are depressed.

But men often don’t realize that chronic pain and digestive disorders go hand in hand with depression, according to focus groups conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. Norman Sussman, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center, says people who are depressed do genuinely feel bad physically.

3. Loss of Focus

Psychomotor retardation can slow down a man’s ability to process information, thereby impairing concentration on work or other tasks.

“Depression fills one with negative thoughts, almost like an intrusion,” Klapow says. “You’re slowed down and constantly thinking about negative things in your world. As a result it makes it very difficult to focus on anything.”

I think being distracted from time to time is close to the norm for a lot of us. But to the point where you are not able to focus on your day to day tasks is not.  Seek help!

4. Anger

 

Some men manifest depression by being hostile, angry, or aggressive, says. Dr. Sussman. “A man who realizes something is wrong may need to compensate by demonstrating that he is still strong or capable,” he says.

Also, anger is usually a secondary emotion.  It stems from hurt.

5. Stress

“Men might be more likely to report symptoms of depression as stress. It’s not that they have more stress; it’s that it’s more socially acceptable to report it,” Klapow says.

According to Dr. Cook, stress and depression can also travel a two-way street. “It’s accurate to say that feeling stressed can be an indicator of having clinical depression but also be part of the cause,” he says.

Research has shown that prolonged exposure to stress can lead to changes both in the body and brain, which can in turn lead to depression.

6. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse frequently accompanies depression. Research has shown that alcoholics are almost twice as likely to suffer from major depression as people without a drinking problem.

“It can happen for both men and women, but using drugs or alcohol to mask uncomfortable feelings is a strategy many men will employ instead of seeking health care,” says Dr. Cook.

“There’s a cultural bias of, ‘I should be able to fix this myself and so I’ll use what chemicals I have available to me to do that,’” Dr. Cook says.

Yes. Yes yes yes. First of all, understand that there’s a reason you’re continuing to have to use substances to deal. It’s because IT ISN’T HELPING.  Some substances (alcohol!) are depressants. They exacerbate your symptoms. And using your high as a way to escape/mask your feelings simply isn’t going to work. Again, it WILL make things worse. Why? Eventually you’re going to have to come down from your high. 

Then what? (I imagine the answer here from some of you is, “get high again.” And I mean…..)

7. Sexual Dysfunction

Depression is a common reason for loss of desire and erectile dysfunction (ED), and it’s one symptom that men are inclined not to report. “Performance problems can come from depression and make depression worse,” Dr. Cook says.

However, ED can be the result of other medical conditions or medications (including antidepressants), and ED by itself does not signal depression.

“My strong recommendation…is that you can’t go after one symptom; it’s a group of symptoms,” Klapow says.

8. Suicidal Thoughts

Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more than four times as likely to die if they do attempt suicide. One reason is that men tend to choose more lethal methods.

“They more often use firearms and kill themselves the first time they try,” Dr. Cook says.

Older men are at highest risk for suicide, and doctors may miss depression symptoms in this group. In fact, more than 70% of older suicide victims saw their primary care physician within the month of their death.

A suicidal thought. A. One. That is when it’s time to seek help (in my opinion). That may seem dramatic for some people, but if that is something that has crept up in your mind as a solution, then what is the harm in talking to someone about it? You may not be *seriously* considering it, but still, that’s not a safe thought to keep to yourself.

The thing to keep in mind is that clinical depression isn’t necessarily one of these symptoms all by itself. And it’s not a one time, feeling kind of down for a few days, kind of thing either.  Clinical depression is persistent. And it literally interferes with your daily functioning.

Here is information and time periods for depression diagnoses:

Major Depressive Disorder – symptoms for 2 weeks (see also, Major Depressive Episode)

Dysthymia – symptoms for at least 2 years

This is nothing to play with. If you are experiencing these symptoms, even if it isn’t quite on this level, then it’s worth speaking with a mental health professional about.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help and taking care of yourself.

Please believe that.