Depression is a syndrome characterized by a number of symptoms including the following: depressed or irritable mood, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, fatigue, and changes in sleep, appetite, or activity level. Depression causes a decrease in the quality of life as well as impairment in social and occupational functioning. Depression is becoming a growing issue in the Black community. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Blacks have been shown to have higher rates of depression than Whites (specifically in regards to Black women). However, there has been a significant gap in the research pertaining to depression in Black males. This lack of research has led to an under diagnosis of Black males, leaving many clinically depressed Brothers with untreated symptoms. There is significant research to suggest that Black males are under diagnosed because (based on the cultural experience of Black males) depressive symptoms may look different in this population.
Men in America are expected to project characteristics of strength, individuality, autonomy, dominance, stoicism, and physical aggression. For Black males identifying with and fulfilling these roles has been a challenge that often times they have been unable to meet. One explanation may be that Black males often times receive conflicted messages about Black masculinity from mainstream society and the Black community. On one hand, in mainstream society, Black males are often portrayed in a negative light (i.e. overly aggressive, sexually promiscuous, lazy, unmotivated). However, in the Black community, Black men are expected to live up to the three P’s: Priest, Provider, and Protector. Depression, in Black males may stem from this conflict in the form of a failed attempt to reconcile these two images/ views into one successful individual. This failed attempt is further compounded by the fact that in general, men are more likely to rely on themselves, to withdraw socially, and try to talk themselves out of feeling depressed. So what has happened is that we have a number of Black males (especially between the ages of 18-24) who due to societal limitations in regards to finances and education are unable to fulfill the expectations bestowed upon them. This causes these individuals to experience a chronic feeling of silent frustration. This trend is most evident in the increased number of suicides among Black males.
Currently suicide ranks as the third most common cause of death among Black males between the ages of 15-24. Suicide represents feelings of anger and hopelessness turned inward on the individual. Typically we think of Black male anger as being more outwardly expressed in the form of aggression (especially towards other Black men and women). Between 1976 and 2005, Black on Black offenses accounted for 94 % of homicides reported. However, current statistics indicate that while still high compared to other racial groups, Black on Black homicide is decreasing. On the other hand, suicide among Black males is increasing with the suicide rate doubling since 1980. This suggests that as societal pressures mount for Black males they continue to develop deep anger that manifests itself as violence. However, instead of showing aggression to others, they are turning on themselves.
So what does this have to do with Black males and depression? When you think of depression as a disorder the first thing that comes to mind is a depressed mood. However, one symptom that often gets overlooked as a sign of depression is irritability. This is the key to identifying depression in Black males. What may be viewed as being overly aggressive may be a warning sign of a Brother experiencing silent frustration. Unable to achieve the American dream and hampered by the stigmas associated with being a Black man, he may be unable to voice his sadness and instead turns in on himself. So before you write off a Brother as just an “angry Black guy” take time to understand that his anger might be the tip of the iceberg and persistence and acknowledgment may lead to deeper revelations.