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major depression than other ethnic groups. However, they’re more inclined to experience a milder, longer-lasting type of depression called dysthymia.

Depression: A Problem of Level

Over the course of their lives, about 10 percent of African Americans will handle major depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health’s National Survey of American Life 18 percent of white Americans will face major depression in their own lifetime. Unfortunately, fewer than half of the African Americans who experience major depressive disorder seek treatment — and lots of non-health care providers are the people they turn to for help.

Those with dysthymia are able have trouble deriving enjoyment from life and to work from day to day, but are normally sad. Dysthymia generally lasts for quite a long time, at least two years, with less severe symptoms compared with major depression. Of the African American survey respondents with depression, 56 percent had dysthymia.

“There do seem to be differences in the prevalence of specific mental health ailments, but it’s a very complicated quantification,” says Melva Green, a psychiatrist in Baltimore and former chair of the Committee on Women of the American Psychiatric Association.

Depression: Challenges to Diagnosis

Researchers believe that more African-Americans have dysthymic disorder because they will have less access to mental health care that could address their continual low level depression. Another reason is more vulnerability to risk factors like poverty or offense, which could lead to depression and other mental disorders. “African-Americans are much less likely than [white Americans] to really seek mental health services,” Dr. Green says. Being less likely to get appropriate medical treatment may be another reason why African-Americans have problems with a more consistent, chronic form of depression.

African Americans also may react differently to depression than white Americans, who most often express feelings of overwhelming despair when describing their condition. “African-Americans are much more prone to present with more culture-bound manifestations of depression,” Green says, adding that they are much less inclined to say that they feel blue or depressed, and more likely to say they feel angry and irritable, or that they have aches, pains, as well as other physical disorders.

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Because African Americans may react to feelings of melancholy, it may be harder for medical professionals to diagnose. “The challenge is the fact that mood scales and criteria are mainly defined among non-African Americans,” says Green. “The definition has really focused and honed in on the larger traditions and has missed African-Americans.”

Melancholy: Recognize When to Seek Help

Several of the apparent symptoms of depression that will prompt a visit using a health practitioner include:

  • A constant feeling of emptiness
  • Physical symptoms that don’t get better with treatment, like headaches and stomachaches
  • Inability to take pleasure in once-pleasurable activities
  • Irritability and general unhappiness
  • A change in appetite, with accompanying weight loss or weight gain
  • Problems with memory, attention, and decision-making
  • A drop in motivation or energy.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness.
  • Getting too much or too little sleep
  • Thinking about death or suicide

Those who have five or even more of these symptoms for greater than two weeks should see a physician. In addition you should go if you are contemplating suicide or if any one of these symptoms are interfering with your ability to operate.

Beyond enhancing mental health, getting help for depression may reduce cardiovascular disease and enhance quality of life. A recent study showed that African-American respondents who reported symptoms that were depressed also had lower rates of physical activity. Blue patients were less prone to exercise, eat well, and take prescribed medicine — an unhealthy combination which may bring about the development of cardiovascular issues.

By minimizing stress and avoiding mental health treatment, perhaps you are cheating yourself out of living a joyful and healthy life. With so many successful treatments available today, there isn’t any reason to simply live with the unhappiness.

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