This is why depression in black women can be overlooked by doctors

Exposure to racism and other stressors increases the risk of depression in black people and other people of color. But for black women — who are affected by racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression — their depressive symptoms look different than other groups and may be overlooked by doctors.

A December 2022 paper published in Nursing Research revealed that black women are less likely to report stereotypical symptoms of depression, such as sadness or hopelessness. Instead, they notice trouble sleeping, self-criticism, irritability, and the inability to experience pleasure.

This discovery – made by researchers from NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and Columbia University School of Nursing – could mean black women are not getting the mental health care they need.

“Based on our findings, it is possible that health care providers are overlooking depression symptoms in black women, resulting in underdiagnosis and undertreatment,” Nicole Perez, Ph.D., RN, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and postdoctoral fellow at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

Black women are at particular risk for major depressive disorder—or clinical depression—because they bear societal burdens of poverty, single parenting, and racial and gender discrimination.

Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect how a person feels, thinks, or acts. It can also lead to emotional and physical problems that make it difficult to function at work or at home.

The disease is diagnosed by health care providers based on symptoms reported by patients during an evaluation. Some other symptoms that are considered normal include low mood, loss of interest in activities, and changes in appetite or sleep.

While there are “common” symptoms, the reality is that depression is unique to everyone.

With over 1,500 possible combinations of symptoms that meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder, it’s not uncommon for it to be undertreated.

But since most of the research on symptom variation has been conducted in white people, depression is even more likely to be missed in black women and other people of color.

Black women are at particular risk for major depressive disorder—or clinical depression—because they bear societal burdens of poverty, single parenting, and racial and gender discrimination.

I hope these findings add to the growing dialogue about how depression may look different from person to person, and raise awareness of the need for more research in historically underserved and minority groups.

NICOLE PEREZ, PH.D., RN, LEAD AUTHOR

The researchers examined data from 227 black women who were screened for depression as part of the Intergenerational Impact of Psychogical and Genetic Factors on Blood Pressure (InterGen) study – a study that sought to understand the genetic, psychological and environmental factors that contribute to high blood pressure. in black mothers and children.

While the study results can be considered groundbreaking due to the lack of representation of black women in previous research, the researchers caution people not to generalize their findings to all black women. This is due to the fact that the study participants were younger and had “relatively low levels of depression.”

Nevertheless, the results further the conversation about the need for inclusive screening tools that take into account all types of depression symptoms, including somatic – pertaining to the body – and self-criticism.

“My hope is that these findings add to the growing dialogue about how depression may look different from person to person, and raise awareness of the need for more research in historically underserved and minority populations so that we can better identify symptoms and address missed care. can reduce.” and health disparities,” Perez said.

For more information about free mental health services in your area, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org.

Credit: This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice with support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a partnership of 10 black media outlets across the country.
This is why depression in black women can be overlooked by doctors

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