Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men?
A recent study shows Black men are unlikely to be prescribed antidepressants. Michael Arceneaux says he knows all too well how doctors miss the boat with Black men’s mental health
By Michael Arceneaux Writer
BLACK MAN HURTING:
Do Doctors Fail to Diagnose Depression in Our Men?
I’m not surprised by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health survey’s findings that doctors are far less likely to prescribe antidepressants to Black and Latino patients afflicted with major depressive disorder than their white counterparts.
In their findings, race, payment source, physician ownership status and geographical region were all listed as factors that play into whether physicians decide to prescribe antidepressants to patients. Moreover, age and payment source influence which types of antidepressants patients receive. As a result, Caucasians are 1.52 times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than Black and Latino patients being treated for major depressive disorders.
The disparity in antidepressant usage between Whites and minorities often centers on stigmas within minority communities. It’s about time the focus shifted towards how the role the attitudes of others factor into the gap.
Though I was never treated for a specific major depressive disorder, I have had painful bouts with depression and anxiety through the years – and encounters with careless doctors who bypassed obvious symptoms due to their own silly biases. Less than a year ago there was a period where I feared standing up would invite the kind of pain sure to knock me down. During one week in particular, each new day brought on an even more excruciating headache than the one before. When I did finally manage to stand up, I noticed that I had broken out in several different rashes across various parts of my body. As freaked out as I was about the exterior, I was more worried that I could barely function without needing to lay down every other hour. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Black man in America. As circumstance would have it, I am a Black man in America, so I suppose that makes sense. However, in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, I’m not alone; the rest of the country, at least temporarily, appears to be interested in the lives of Black men, particularly young Black men. Out of that tragedy has arisen the need to explain the story of Black men on a national scale.
Of course, there isn’t a single narrative, one that will definitively place all the experiences of Black men into a neat package for a curious public. However, there are commonalities, uniting factors that can help those who will never be Black men or will come into scant contact with Black men to get a general sense of what shapes the lives of Black men. There’s the hope that, perhaps, the more the world knows about us, the fewer Trayvons there will be. A prayer set out into the darkness, no doubt, but that in itself is a part of the Black male experience.
It occurs to me, reflecting more in this moment about the lives of young brothers, that it’s a familiar enough story. It’s as human as it gets, despite the best attempts to deny us our humanity. I have found that Black men experience this world in ways that are quite similar to the widely known Kubler-Ross “5 Stages of Grief” model:
1. Denial. In his life, every Black man is afforded a period of unburdened optimism. The length varies for each individual, and some may not remember it. Whether it lasts until they turn five or 50, there’s at least a moment where a Black man can look out into the world and see it as full of opportunity. There exists no limits in his mind as to who or what he can become. It’s a time free of history’s lessons and society’s prejudices.
But there also comes a moment, an internal realization generally prompted by an outside force, where Black men have to confront their reality as “the other.” If you’re lucky, it could be something seemingly innocuous, like being told “you speak so well.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, it could be potentially deadly, like being pulled over by a police officer for “looking suspicious.” It very well could be purposeful, as in an elder handing down to you a dog-eared copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Black male anger isn’t an anomaly, it’s a consequence of breathing.
Again, the timing and form of this message will vary from person to person, but eventually something pushes a previously dormant voice in the mind of every Black man to say “wake up, you’re Black” and he doesn’t want to believe it.
This isn’t so much about the denial of one’s Blackness as it is a denial about world’s reaction to that Blackness. No one wants to believe their mere existence is a problem, that the fact of their skin color will be an impediment to their goals. Everyone wants to be judged fairly based on who they are. No one wants to believe the worst in people. For a while, a Black man may choose to say to themselves that it simply isn’t true, that the world can see their humanity just fine. A few get stuck there, either by choice or delusion. Even those who make it past this stage may continue to long for the days of well-meaning ignorance and optimism.
2. Anger. Who can blame Black men for being angry? You’re born into a legacy that includes slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, marches, protests, and riots. From the moment you’re old enough to know what it is, you’re told that it’s likely you’ll end up in prison, and you start to believe it as you watch fathers/uncles/brothers/cousins be hauled off. Everywhere you go, you’re viewed as a problem that needs to be solved.
How can you not be angry when it seems like every other week you’re learning the name of another brother you’ll never meet, for all the wrong reasons? Trayvon Martin. Sean Bell. Amadou Diallo. Abner Louima. Ramarley Graham. Oscar Grant. James Byrd. Troy Davis. James Anderson. Their names make it into the news and a familiar sense of pain and rage settles in, because the story never changes.
DEPRESSION: One Black Man’s Story – Wellness & Empowerment – EBONY. When my grades started dropping senior year of high school, I didn’t think much of it. School had never held much interest to me and I had always done just enough to “get by” anyway, so not being able to focus in Physics or AP Government wasn’t a big deal to me. And I never had many true friends, just a bunch of associates who came in out and of my life, so the fact that I closed myself off from them didn’t register as a warning sign. The sleeping in late, the not eating, the constant worrying about things that hadn’t happened…I thought I was just being my normal, neurotic self.
But staring in the mirror, wondering how much blood there would be if I bashed my head against it, wasn’t normal. Sitting at the dinner table thinking about taking the knife I’m using to cut my steak to slit my wrists, wasn’t normal. Something was missing.
I had thought about suicide before, but never in any real way. It was always a “what if?” Now, it had become a “maybe I should…” I learned firsthand what the true meaning of the word “depression” was.
Something was missing, but I had no idea what.
I “got over” it though. I moved past it. I never spoke a word of it to anyone. I was “better.”
Two years later, I wasn’t just “better”, I thought I was completely “cured.” I spent the summer in Atlanta working a well-paying internship, going to concerts every week, meeting some of my heroes, just enjoying life.
Then I bought the Gnarls Barkley album, St. Elsewhere. I was taken aback. I realized I wasn’t too far removed from the space Cee-Lo was singing from. The isolation, the helplessness, the feeling of being trapped inside your own mind and it being locked from the outside and there is no one around to pick the key up from under the welcome mat to let you out…these feelings were all too familiar. I never spoke a word of it to anyone. No matter. Cee-Lo was doing that for me.
There’s a song toward the middle of the album called “Just a Thought” that is a hauntingly accurate description of what goes through a person’s mind while suffering from severe depression. Each verse ends with the phrase “…and I tried, everything but suicide, but it crossed my mind.” I could only nod silently in agreement as he belted out the most secret of my thoughts for the whole world to hear.