The Brain Now: Depression and African Americans

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Chaka Fattah

Depression is often the last unspoken emotional frontier for many African Americans to fully confront.  Feeling like you are having more than a bad day is nothing to feel embarrassed or ashamed about. You, or a family member, are not alone. Depression affects some 19 million of Americans according to the CDC. Depression is very real and often can affects the body, mind, and emotion of an individual.  

What is depression?

In short, depression can be an overwhelming feeling of dread, hopelessness, and, for some extreme suffers, thoughts of suicide can accompany the urge to “ease” the emotional pain. While it is normal to feel sad on occasion, or not be in a great or energetic mood, depression often affects the whole body – often lasting for weeks. If you, or someone you may know, is feeling this way, there are some measures you can take that can help you feel much, much better. 

What causes depression?

Doctors and health officials believe there may be several possible causes of depression. One reason could be an individual having a hereditary or genetic disposition to experiencing depression. Another reason could be the chemical imbalances in the brain that manifest itself into dramatic mood swings.

Symptoms of depression

People battling with depression often feel very, very tired – almost all the time. In addition, forgetting important dates or duties, or feeling physically unable to have the energy to do normal activities – dressing, going to work, etc. – all signs someone could be suffering from depression. Some suffers experience feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in former pleasurable activities.  Also, changes in sleeping patterns, that causes individuals to sleep much longer than usual for them, could also be an indication that person is struggling with clinical depression. As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for individuals deep in the grips of clinical depression to contemplate suicide. 

Treatment options for depression

Research strongly supports the use of medication for more severe episodes of depression. Antidepressant medication acts on the chemical pathways of the brain related to moods.  The two most common types are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are also some prescribe by some doctors. Antidepressant medications are not habit forming. It may take up to eight weeks before you notice an improvement. Don’t be afraid to consult a second opinion before you agree to a medication regiment. 

Psychotherapy can help teach better ways of handling problems by talking with a trained mental health professional. Therapy can be effective in treating depression, especially depression that is less severe. Scientific studies have shown that short-term (10-20 weeks) courses of therapy are often helpful in treating depression. Finally, support groups are excellent ways to add to a psychotherapy or medication regimen. Mental health is as important as our physical health. Look for signs of depression and don’t be afraid to get some help. 

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The Brain Now: Depression and African Americans

By Chaka Fattah
July 10, 2022