There has been precious little research done on depression and Black men, but a 2007 study coming from the American Medical Association showed that while the prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder was highest for Whites in their research sample, about 18 percent, it was most chronic for African Americans and Caribbean Americans, 56.5 and 56 percent, respectively — and only about 45 percent of African Americans and 24 percent of Caribbean Americans in the study got any treatment for it.
Also, a 2010 CDC study shows that African Americans have the highest rate of suicide, at more than 12 percent, despite having a lower lifetime risk, but suicide is the third-leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-24.
Dr. David Malebranche, an internist and primary care physician at the University of Pennsylvania, has treated the issue of depression among Black men and agrees that it is largely underdiagnosed and that’s because so many of us won’t open up about our feelings.
“A lot of times it’s issues around gender performance, expectations, how we look,” Malebranche said. “With Black men, people don’t want to see us as depressed and it’s not on the radar for health care providers to see us as depressed.
“I used to work at (Atlanta’s) Grady Memorial Hospital and most of the patients were Black. Many came in with traditional and non-traditional symptoms of depression. One man came in to see the residents, he was about 6′ 3,” 250 pounds. He complained about headaches, the medicines he was taking weren’t helping. I came in to the room and asked how everything was going at home and he broke down crying. It turned out it was the anniversary of his mother’s death.
“So sometimes it’s the simplest question of how’s it going at home that opens up doors,” he said. “But it’s much easier to pathologize people and say there is something wrong with them instead of saying they may be depressed. You don’t see that with a lot of Black men, so it’s an incomplete narrative. We have to take out our cameras and our pens and tell those stories ourselves. We can’t wait on major media to change that.”
ut we also live in communities where Black men are told to be stoic and unexpressive, where being seen as weak can be lethal, where environmental factors like a simple lack of sunlight or living in a food desert can cause vitamin deficiencies that contribute to depression, and where proper therapy for mental health issues can come too late and result in violent consequences, perhaps not unlike the situation allegedly involving Daniel St. Hubert.
It’s not weak to scream, to express onesself in the face of angst — even in the ‘hood. Hell, that’s why we came up with hip-hop in the first place. However, you let it out, it’s better to talk to somebody, whomever that might be: a wife, a best friend, a sibling, even a barber, or bartender.
Because at the end of the day, the other side of “man up”… is “man down.”
Madison J. Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based multimedia journalist specializing in urban issues and criminal justice. He writes for NewsOne on the subject of Black males in America. Follow him on Twitter: @madisonjgray