The issue of depression among young Black men is a rarely discussed topic of conversation.
At a symposium held at the University of Chicago School of Social Service in February, Dr. Waldo Johnson Jr. said, “Black boys are more depressed because they believe their physical safety is always being threatened. Their families are economically poorer than Whites and many Black families live below the poverty line.”
Johnson is an associate professor and leading voice in the field of social work.
Although some, in more conservative circles may believe that young Black males are merely lashing out due to their own self-imposed victimization, Dr. Cornel West, in his essay titled “Nihilism in Black America,” said this is not the case. Nihilism, by definition is a philosophical belief based in extreme skepticism, maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.
According to West, as it pertains to the Black community, “Nihilism is to be understood here not as a philosophic doctrine – it is, far more, the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.” He goes on to say that, “This usually results in a numbing detachment from others and a self-destructive disposition toward the world. Life without meaning, hope and love breeds a cold-hearted, mean-spirited outlook that destroys both the individual and others.”
Research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the population of Black males age 18 and over in this country experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness at rates higher than their white and Hispanic counterparts.
In an interview with the Recorder, licensed clinical psychologist and family therapist Kisha Parker of Healing Pathways Counseling and Consulting, shared insight into the reasons and warning signs behind this issue.
Recorder: In your professional opinion, what are some of the issues that cause symptoms of depression in young Black men?
Parker: Per my own clinical observation and personal experience, depression in young African-American men often resembles anger, rebellion and anti-social behavior (behavior that lacks consideration for others and potentially causes damage to society).
What are the warning signs?
Some of the warning signs include isolation, rage, loss of a sense of hope, and anti-social behavior. Sometimes it is also displayed in “suicide by cop” behaviors, behaviors displayed by a suicidal individual who deliberately behaves in a threatening way, provoking a lethal response from a law enforcement officer or other legitimately armed individual, potentially leading to being shot to death. This may explain some of the rise in the amount of violence we have recently been experiencing here in the Indianapolis area.
Why does depression in Black males largely go untreated and undiagnosed?
Depression in Black men is largely undiagnosed and untreated for what seems to be multiple reasons. First off, there are some discrepancies between how many Black men actually define depression versus how depression is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM). Depression is often perceived by African-American men as “weakness.” To allow themselves to admit to having what they perceive is “weakness” requires a degree of vulnerability that is not always safe to express in the Black community without becoming a target for aggression. Therefore, many simply choose to ignore, cover, self-medicate, and/or numb-out to their “weakness” leaving it largely untreated.
Secondly, many within this demographic struggle to feel a sense of hope. With the rise in unemployment, poverty, racial prejudice, unfair and harsh treatment within the legal/justice system, breakdowns within the family system, loss of friends and family members due to homicide, and other grievances, it is oftentimes difficult for young African-American men to feel hopeful about their futures with any reason to press onward, let alone ask for help.
Thirdly, due to a history of distrust, there exists a significant gap between the African-American male population and mental health treatment facilities and practitioners. As a result, it is highly unlikely that an African-American male will seek treatment from those entities that he distrusts. He would be more likely to turn to a peer, gang member, family member, or pastor, if anyone at all. Though it is not a negative thing to turn to any of those members of his social support network, those members may not be professionally trained nor equipped to assess, diagnose, and treat the primary overarching issue.
What should educators, parents, and professionals know about helping Black men suffering from depression?
In attempting to service and treat people within this demographic, I believe it is imperative for educators, parents, and professionals to first begin by building relationships with the people they are attempting to service. It is of significant importance that these relationships are initiated with humility, and from a “one-down” posture. It would be grossly counter-productive to attempt servicing these men with a posture resembling that of an “expert.” It is important that those being serviced, first be given a voice, and then be given an opportunity for their voice to be heard. It is important to hear how they define their own problems and how they describe what those problems look like. More importantly, they need to know that someone cares to listen.
Special from the Indianapolis Recorder