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Brothers and Depression

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Dear Dr. Levister: Two years ago I was on top of the world. I was an educated brother in a high paying dot-com job, with a bright, beautiful wife and a house on the hill. Today I am divorced, jobless, and penniless. Despite feeling frustrated, worthless and angry, I present an image to the public that all is fine. Is this a form of depression or just plain misplaced pride? P.E.

Dear P.E.: Chris Rock once joked, "The only time a brother sees a psychiatrist is if the court orders it." Sadly, he may be on to something. Researchers estimate that more than six million men in the United States have a depressive disorder -- about one-third of the adults living with depression in any given year.

However, men are less likely than women to recognize, acknowledge, and seek treatment for their depression. In addition, their loved ones and even their physicians may not always detect depressive symptoms in men.

A November, 2002 study called "Depression: The New Male Problem?" poses the question, are social pressures and masculine stereotypes causing suicide and depression to skyrocket among young African-American men? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the University of Alabama study found increases in the number of suicides among young Black males -- outpaced increases among other groups. While the findings put the issue on the nation's health radar, some experts say the data is flawed.

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical professor of psychiatry and co-author of "Lay Me Down: Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health of African-Americans," says better data collection is needed. "We need to know are the victims middle class, homeless, high school dropouts, drug addicts, have they been incarcerated, unemployed, experienced personal or family problems or any number of other issues that may increase their risk," Poussaint says.

One thing is for certain: the studies further dispel the image of the cool, unflappable Black male. The swaggering "gangsta" of folklore may actually be the African-American man acting out feelings of inferiority and hopelessness. Some experts believe pride is compromising Black men’s health. African-American men are less willing to seek help for depression caused by such factors as racism, unemployment, divorce or death of a spouse or loved one. Where a Black woman may turn to friends or family for help, the Black male is more likely to withdraw, engage in risky behavior, turn to alcohol drugs or violence.

Depression is a serious medical condition that can affect men and women. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. The symptoms you describe fit the profile for depression. Depression is a risk factor for suicide.

It takes courage to ask for help. You deserve to live your best life regardless of the challenges you face. Seek the support of a family member or close friend. More importantly, this is about real men, real depression. Dump the pride and get immediate help from a physician or mental health specialist.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502.

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