Anxiety And Depression In Afro-Americans


A major cause of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
in individuals is stress. Defined stress is an internal response caused by the
application of a stressor or anything that requires coping behaviour. For
example the pressure of a job, supporting a family or getting an education are
stressors that can result in depression and anxiety. Individuals and groups that
have numerous resources or other coping mechanisms are better suited for coping
with stress than are those who lack such resources. As a result, social and
economic circumstances in North America suggest that the black and Latino
communities have a higher risk for developing mental disorders than does the
non-black make up of the United States. Hence this paper will attempt to
demonstrate how due to socio-economic differences such as money, racism and
increased exposure to violence, blacks have a greater chance to develop mental
disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Some definitions: Stress, Depression & Anxiety
Stress is everywhere in our lives and it can be found in two forms. The
life of Afro-Americans is filled with both eustress and distress, but it is the
high rate of distress due to socio-economic circumstances that are responsible
for higher rates of depression and anxiety amongst them.
Depression is an emotional state characterized by extreme sadness,
gloomy ruminations, feelings of worthlessness, loss of hope, and often
apprehension, while anxiety is a generalized feeling of fear and apprehension.
The number of reported cases combining both depression and anxiety with Afro-
Americans has dramatically increased since the civil rights movement, when
scientists began recording such causal relationships. In addition, statistics
show that the rate of violence demonstrates a positive relationship of mental
health disorders within the black community. Studies by Bell, Dixie-Bell and
Thompson show that Afro-Americans have a 36% higher chance of developing
depression than do non-blacks (Bell, Dixie-Bell, & Thompson, p.53). It is felt
that a portion of these results can be attributed to the high incidence of
violence and exposure within the black community.

Economic Distress
Poverty and unemployment are rampant in Afro-American communities in the
United States. Approximately 65% of the black community in the U.S. live in
poverty or are unemployed (Bell et al., p.53). In comparison to other ethnic
groups, this is the highest rate with the exception of the Latino community at
68.7%. The closest group above the blacks are the Chinese at 35%. Not only are
most blacks poor and unemployed but, the future does not look promising in terms
of job opportunities for Afro-Americans. This rampant spread of poverty within
the black community causes great distress within the family unit. Parents are
unable to provide for their children basic necessities for living, such as food
or proper shelter. In effect this distress causes individuals to demonstrate
extreme sadness, feelings of worthiness and loss of hope. Their great anxiety is
because there is, "no apparent way out of the situation."(Friedman, p.77)

Socio-Cultural Distress
Despite the feeling that some substantial progress in terms of race
relations has been made since the civil rights movement of the 1960's, "afro-
americans still feel that they are at the bottom of the race poll." (Fenton,
p.13) Much racism and prejudice still exists in America today and with
occurrence of certain events, racial tensions are definitely increasing. For
example both the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials, ignited intense debate
amongst the population about racial issues. Despite the conviction of Rodney
Kings attackers and the acquittal of O.J. Simpson, blacks feel as though justice
was not served. "White America is still appalled at the destruction the King
verdict caused."(Harton, p.89) The reaction to the results of these two cases
was caused by distress within the black community. In addition, it is this
distress that will cause blacks to suffer from high rates of anxiety.
Studies show that Afro-Americans demonstrate higher levels of fear and
apprehension. When asked what their anxiety was caused by, Afro-American teens
said that their fear comes from fear of dying before their 21 birthday and fear
of losing a loved one to drugs or gang violence. When presented with the same
question, white teens responded their greatest fears were not getting into grad
school and not being considered popular at school. Thus it is evident, that the
concerns of black teens are more about, "actual survival than they are about
their image or position in life".(Friedman, p.63) However, it is important to
realize that this does not mean that white teens can't develop high levels of
anxiety, just that the fear for ones life may be considered more alarming than
ones public image.

Violence Exposure
Studies by Bell and Jenkins