by Calvin R. Greene
First of all it is important to understand what really constitutes depression. All of us feel down from time to time perhaps based on having a "bad day". However when feelings of sadness last for several weeks, months, or years, and are accompanied by other symptoms such as change of appetite, isolation from family and friends, sleeplessness, etc. these are symptoms of depression.
In 1999 Dr. David Satcher, Surgeon General of the United States, and an African-American, released a Report on Mental Health that was a landmark moment for America. This was the first comprehensive report on the state of the nation's mental health issued by America's "physician-in-chief." It is both an inventory of the resources available to promote mental health and treat mental illness, and a call to action to improve these resources. It paints a portrait of mental illness, filling the canvas with the faces of America, revealing that the effects of mental illness cut across all the nation's dividing lines, whether gender, education, economic status, education, or race. However, the 2001 supplement to the original 1999 report indicates that it probably affects African American men more adversely than it does the general population."Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity," which is the title of the supplement by Dr. Satcher, says that "racial and ethnic minorities collectively experience a greater disability burden from mental illness than do whites." The supplemental report goes even deeper in that it highlights the disparity that exists for black men in mental health as it does in relation to most health problems. For example, African-American men are more likely to live with chronic health problems, and studies show that living with chronic illnesses increases the risk of suffering from depression. In a 2002 report, "The Burden of Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors, " the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that African American Men have the highest rates of prostate cancer and hypertension in the world. The report also says that black men are twice as likely as white men to develop diabetes, and suffer higher rates of heart disease and obesity. The American Cancer Society's report entitled "Cancer Facts and Figures", and written in 2003 found that black men are more than twice as likely as white men to die from prostate cancer. We are also more likely than others to wait until an illness reaches a serious stage before we seek treatment. Often times treatment is not sought until we are in emergency rooms, homeless shelters, or prisons.
According to a report by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in 2003, men in general are three times less likely than women to visit a doctor, and African-American men specifically are less likely than white men to go to a doctor prior to them being in poor health. This is the case for physical ailments. When one factors in the stigma attached to mental illness, and other barriers that keep us from getting help, it is easy to see why black men are even less likely to seek treatment for depression. Yet, the nation, including the African-American community is often silent on this issue. The silence on the subject among blacks is due, in part, to our lack of vocabulary to talk about depression.
We call depression "the blues" in the black community. We have been taught, at least in the past, and, to a certain extent even now, to shrug off this mental state. For many of us, it is not just a fact of life; it is a way of life. When bluesmen used to sing, "Every day I have the blues" or "It ain't nothing but the blues" or similar words from hundreds of songs, they do more than mouth lyrics. They voice a cultural attitude. They state an accepted truth at the heart of their music: Having the blues goes along with being black in America. In...