I bet you’re depressed, too. No worries, there’s no need to hide that from yourself or anyone else anymore.
Take me for example, I been depressed since the fifth grade. That year was pivotal. As ironic as it seems, for the first time in my life making friends wasn’t the issue. I actually made friends immediately, some I’m still in contact with to this very day. But during that first week of fifth grade, I noticed I still had no one who could really talk to. And I mean really talk to.
Back at home, was the usual for me. My family was couch surfing for a number of years after being kicked out of my grandmother’s house. Finally, we moved into a townhouse where my family and I shared a small bedroom as our living room, dining room, and lastly as an actual bedroom. My father was a semi-functioning alcoholic with no job while my mother worked herself senseless to pay the bills. My older brother was at adolescence’s doorstep so he had no time for his pesky younger sister. My younger brother was only 2 years old. Needless to say, I spent many hours alone as usual. It wasn’t new I was always my only friend.
Although I started to make some life long friends, they didn’t protect me from bullies. My old bullies would always so the same things. I was always an ugly dark skin girl who was too tall and fat. For a second I thought I would escape these taunts. But for whatever reason, they followed me to my new school.
First thing in the morning, they would say it. During lunch, they would say it. At the end of the day, they would say it. Even from my family. They would say it, too. And what would I say to myself when I look in the mirror? I would poke and prod my face. I would practice sucking in my stomach. Then I gave up. I’d only be that pretty and skinny in my head. This wasn’t my only source of trauma. I faced other forms of violence and abuse all while smiling in my friends.
Years would past and time would sow deeper scars on me. During high school, I learned a new coping mechanism for my past trauma. I thought I could out-achieve my past experiences. I worked two jobs, had a TEDx Talk, won awards, participated in mock trials, grew as an activist, built my network, internships, public speaking, etc. All to fill a hole. I thought now that time has passed, I’m still depressed. In my head, I’m still the fat ugly girl everyone made me out to be.
Even if your story is different from mine, depression varies but is vast. More than 18 million people (1 in every 10 people) will be affected any given year. But no two people will experience depression the same or for the same reason. Factors could be the change of season, hormones, or, like me, stress and trauma. And no, depression isn’t just sadness, contrary to popular belief. Some general signs of depression are:
● Persistent feelings of sadness or an “empty” mood
● Feeling irritable and restless
● Feeling anxious, hopeless, or helpless
● Loss of interested in actives you once enjoyed
● Decreased sex drive
● Low energy or feelings of fatigue
● Trouble with concentration, memory, and decision-making
● Changes in appetite, weight, and sleep patterns
● Physical symptoms (headaches, digestive issues, body aches, and pain) that don’t subside with treatment.
But this looks even worse for African-Americans. African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. African American youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%.
Although we are most at risk for mental health issues, we are the least likely to deal with our health. Our community, unfortunately, stigmatizes mental health. There is an unspoken belief that we, as black people, must deal with our problems alone and push through our health concerns to live like our problems don’t exist. These are the reasons why depression in black youth goes unrecognized and why our trauma persists throughout our lives.
The severity of depression in black youth is so dire studies have proven it requires new measures to treat. Black adolescents express depressive symptoms differently than people from other age and racial groups, requiring that clinicians take this into account when developing treatment plans, according to a new study led by a Rutgers University-Camden researcher. “Adolescent depression is a dire public concern in the United States, and even greater concern among Black adolescents, where, if left untreated, can disproportionately lead to an escalation of various mental disorders, academic failure, and related issues,” says Wenhua Lu, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University-Camden. The youth of our community are in a crisis and little has been done to help.
The primary way to help black teens with depression is to identify early signs and encourage treatment. When you come in contact with a depressed person, let them know you are a person they can come talk to no matter how bad they may feel. Having a person to talk to is a tremendous help in boosting a person’s mental health. Secondly, explain that depression is a medical condition. By no means of the imagination, is it a personal flaw or issue. It is very common and completely treatable although it may not feel like so. Lastly, you must encourage the person to seek professional help. You, chances are, are not a professional. You can be a supportive friend but never a therapist.
Depression in Black youth is common and should never be silenced by older people. The last thing a depressed person wants to hear is that they are depressed because they’re too young. Depression doesn’t discriminate on age. It can be experienced at any point in life. Us, the black youth, deserve to be heard and supported. Not only that, we deserve access to treatment. Depression takes time to cure, sometimes years. I, myself, am recently found the courage to start therapy. It will be a long time until I heal. But nothing will feel more rewarding than being healed. And I hope you find that same sense of peace, too.
Written by: Tamia Lawrence. Afro World New Guest writer
Author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org