At least seven percent of black men will experience severe depression during their lifetime, and their death rates by suicide are twice as high as those of black women, notes therapist Dr. Terrie M. Williams, author of “Black Pain: It Only Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.”
Williams, who is a friend of mine, also points out that black men abuse alcohol more than white men, white women and black women and are likely to adopt a “who cares” mentality to “guard against the disappointment of dashed hopes and lack of chances of being someone in a culture that at every turn says the color of your skin means you’re inferior, not worthy, or just nothing.”
She adds, “It’s all about surviving, and trying to thrive, in a nation where biased views of black men stubbornly hang on decades after segregation and where statistics show a yawning gap between the lives of white men and black men.”
I often look back and try desperately to latch on to the minuscule, yet sometimes obvious, signs that someone is going through depression. Depression doesn’t recognize one gender over the other, but as men we tend to experience certain aspects of life that allow depression to crop up in our lives in very specific ways. Though each case is unique to the individual, there remain several factors that can be honed in on when attempting to recognize depression in the men in your life.
Here are the top five indicators that the black man you love may be suffering.
Fatigue and decreased activity
For people that have never experienced it firsthand, it is hard to truly grasp the exhaustive nature of depression. For many, their energy level decreases to the point that simple tasks seem utterly impossible. You know the notion that being depressed means lying in bed all day unable to get up? For some, that is an unfortunate reality, because they simply have no energy to do much else. It’s been commonly said that depression feels like a dark, wet blanket on the shoulders of those afflicted. This analogy is closer to reality than many people realize.
Loss of interest in activities
For many, the sheer exhaustion as mentioned above is enough to stunt any desire to pursue normal day-to-day activities, but there is also the added aspect of the loss of interest in things that typically would provide pleasure. Maybe it’s the weekly pickup basketball game or a favorite gaming activity. Many times, men are unable to bring themselves to continue doing even the simple pleasures of life.
Negative outlook on life
We all experience negative thoughts from time to time, but in the throes of depression, those thoughts are oftentimes amplified and can seem to permeate almost every aspect of life. Once these thought begin to creep into the mind of a depressive, it becomes a rollercoaster of emotions that can be hard to control. If you begin to notice this type of behavior, it can be depression rearing its ugly head.
Suicide is what can only be described as the furthest extent of depression. Everyone who is depressed certainly does not consider suicide, but there are many that begin considering self harm and suicide as viable options while at the lowest points of their depressive episode. If a man in your life is comfortable enough with you to admit that he is having these thoughts, take them seriously and take action. (Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255)
Alcohol and drug abuse
Alcohol and drugs are often abused by individuals experiencing depression as a means of coping with their mental situation. Unfortunately, many men choose these methods over therapeutic or psychiatric solutions, because they think they can fix the problem themselves before asking for help. Unfortunately, depending on drugs or alcohol to feel better is only a quick fix, and it can create a vicious cycle of codependency on substances that cause much harm.
From what I have experienced since I was diagnosed four years ago, depression does not equate to a life that is a failure. Depression is a medical condition that – properly treated – can allow for full and prosperous lives. Those who suffer from depression are often unable to see the extent of their own circumstance. That’s why it is so important for family members and friends to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression. Once they do, a helping hand can be put forth. And that simple act could save the life of the man you love.
If you are in need of additional information or you may know someone that is in crisis, please visit the National Alliance On Mental Illness for resources and information that may help you (www.nami.org).
Kenneth “K.T.” Nelson is a mental health advocate and film producer living in New York City. He is also the creator of the documentary, “Face of Darkness,” which explores the issue of depression and mental illness among black men.