It’s no secret that sisters face a lot of pressure in our daily lives. Sometimes it seems like there’s always a new report offering up bleak stats on our health, income, families and romantic prospects. And yet with all the gloomy input, it’s the rare African-American female who will just drop the “strong black woman” thing and cop to being depressed. Madame Noire spoke to clinical psychologist Dr. Gloria Morrow about the matter.
MADAME NOIRE: Have there been any significant studies on black women and depression?
Dr. Gloria Morrow: Unfortunately, the African-American community is probably the most [underreported] community as relates to this topic. There’s a stigma associated with mental illness and we tend not to participate in those studies. But we do have a few stats: Sixty-three percent of African-Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness, so that would explain why only a few folks in our community, when you look at the whole population, are receiving treatment…. And then there’s another statistic. It says that depression among black women is about 50 percent higher than white women and of the black women suffering from depression, only about 7 percent receive treatment compared to 20 percent of white women.
MN: That’s really staggering
Morrow:It is and it really explains so much…. A lot of folks are suffering in silence.
Morrow: Black women have what we call the Superwoman Syndrome, where we are so busy caring for everyone else and not caring for ourselves, it’s breaking us down and making us sick. One of the reasons I believe African-Americans shy away from dealing with depression or any mental illness is because of what we learn in church. We are taught in our churches – and I’m Christian, so I can speak to this in a loving way — I think we have been taught that if we are suffering in this way, that it’s a sign of sin in our lives or we don’t have faith, so we tend to hide the fact that we’re suffering. We’re taught to rely on prayer, I believe in prayer, but I always tell people to believe that God gives us people to help broken people. Faith without works is dead. People need to understand that they need to participate in their healing. That might mean going to a doctor or going to receive counseling from someone they can relate to, someone who is trained.
MN: How does trying to do it all, impact depression?
Morrow: Stress is significantly related to depression. We need a little stress to keep us moving, but the more stress we have, the more likely we are to suffer from the lethal effects of depression. When a person is unable to manage the stressors in their life, they are going to be totally vulnerable to experiencing depression.
MN: What are some strategies for managing depression?
Morrow: I think if people would acknowledge their condition, just to be able to say without shame or guilt: ‘I’m feeling sad,’ and then seek help from a trained professional, that would be the first thing and then they can get the guidance to do the other things … such as surrounding themselves with positive people. Do you realize we can get pulled down sometimes because we’re around negative people? Being around people who are upbeat and positive can be very helpful. Exercise, watching what we eat, taking care of ourselves by making sure that we are not overloading our plates with too much to do – that’s a big issue for us today. We are so busy doing and doing and doing. We can learn how to simplify our lives by working with a schedule that is manageable. If you have more than four or five things to do on your to-do list a day, you have too much to do. So I want to encourage people to really look at what they’re doing and take some time just to be. Just to be peaceful, just to find time for meditation and prayer. Find time just to work on your hobby, the thing that you just love to do just because. Those are the things that help you to have a healthy mind. I always also tell people because of my own beliefs, reconnecting to the spirit of God or connecting to your spiritual source … is very important. Sometimes we stay so much in our own head, thinking about what we did do, what we didn’t do until it also can contribute to being depressed. A lot of people are depressed because of guilt and they have not forgiven themselves. To forgive others and to forgive ourselves is so important to being healthy.