The Walking Wounded: Depression Is a Debilitating Medical Condition That Affects Blacks as It Does No Other Group. Left Unchecked It Can Affect Much More Than Your Mood-It Can Ruin Your Health

By Campbell, Denise | Black Enterprise, May 2010 | Go to article overview

The Walking Wounded: Depression Is a Debilitating Medical Condition That Affects Blacks as It Does No Other Group. Left Unchecked It Can Affect Much More Than Your Mood-It Can Ruin Your Health


Campbell, Denise, Black Enterprise


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DESPITE LIFELONG PERIODS OF SADNESS, EXCESSIVE DRINKING, AND SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL Stephen Akinduro had little inkling that he was depressed and never connected his symptoms to his risky behavior. So Akinduro. a trained pharmacist, didn't seek therapy until his sexual promiscuity and pornography addiction began to confound his life and finances. "I just wanted a quick fix for my behavior, a set of rules and guidelines on how to behave so I could feel normal." the 38-year-old Columbus, Georgia, resident recalls.

His therapist probed into his childhood and eventually revealed the root of Akinduro's depression. When he was 8, his mother committed suicide after enduring years of abuse from his father. Akinduro witnessed the abuse. "I never cried at my mother's funeral. My father told me 'big boys don't cry' and I sucked it in."

For Akinduro, a depressive episode that would spiral into a catastrophe could be triggered by a relationship breakup or a challenge at work. But like many sufferers, he had learned to mask his depression. One supervisor suspected his secret after a heated verbal exchange at work that followed a co-worker's racially insensitive remark. "I was shocked that he picked up on it. but I didn't want to share my problems with a stranger," says Akinduro, who was eventually told he had bipolar disorder.

Akinduro is one of the roughly 14 million Americans who suffer from a form of depression each year. The disorder is characterized by mood fluctuations, low self-attitude, and five or more symptoms that persist for at least two weeks. These include mood disturbances, difficulty concentrating, psycho-motor retardation (slowing down of function), inexplicable crying, irritability, feelings of impending doom, lack of interest in leisure activities, decreased libido, and social withdrawal. Sufferers may also experience polar behavior such as lack of appetite or overeating and constant sleeping or sleeplessness. Bipolar individuals may engage in high-risk sexual activity. If symptoms persist, they can drive sufferers to commit suicide.

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Depression is more intense than the normal feelings of sadness or loneliness that everyone experiences occasionally. It is also different from the grief experienced within two months of the loss of a loved one. Major depression, also called clinical depression and one of the most common forms, decreases quality of life, impairs mental acuity and occupational and emotional functioning, and robs sufferers of experiencing their full potential. Usually precipitated by a traumatic life event or other trigger, an episode of clinical depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime. But more often, it is a persistent, ongoing experience, with episodes that last for up to two years and that worsen without treatment.

Women are more likely to suffer from depression, but men have a higher rate of completed suicide. Although whites experience major depression more than blacks over their lifetimes, it tends to be pervasive and more debilitating for blacks, according to a two-year joint study by Harvard, Wayne State University, and the University of Michigan. Successful treatment is challenging because of blacks' reluctance to take medication. What's more, while it's obvious that depressive conditions affect temperament and disposition, it's not widely known that these conditions directly impact hormonal functions including the regulation of blood pressure and glucose levels. Ignoring signs of depression could affect your health in ways you might have never imagined.

A Devastating Condition for Blacks

Chronic depression and bipolar disorder are two well-known forms of depression. Also called dysthymia, chronic depression is characterized by two years or more of a depressed mood. Less severe than major depression, it does not typically interfere with an individual's life. …

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