Anxiety And Depression In AfroAmericans Essay Research

Anxiety And Depression In Afro-Americans Essay, Research Paper

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 (1991) found that, Afro-American teens

living in the inner-city have high levels of exposure to violence and this

exposure causes them to demonstrate high levels of stress and anxiety. The

results found that by the age of 16, black teens had them selves been or knew

somebody that had been shot, shot at, killed, beaten, robbed with a weapon,

stabbed or raped.(Friedman, p.87) Of 13 girls who had been interviewed for this

study, 11 had been raped. 83% of the teen had witnessed severe violence in the

community. Conversely, the same study done in a suburban area found that only

21% of teen had actually witnessed extreme violence or known somebody to have

been a victim. However, it is important to note that in the suburban case, of

the students that had or new someone involved, “16% were afro-

american”.(Friedman, p.89) Evidently, blacks living in the States have a much

higher exposure to violence than do non-blacks. This in turn leads to higher

levels of anxiety blacks than in whites.

Additional Factors…

In addition to examining the relationship between socio-economic

circumstances and violence exposure, researchers wanted to see if their were any

other factors that contributed to higher rates of depression and anxiety in

blacks. An examination found that higher levels of distress were correlated with

alcohol and illicit drug use. Also, results showed a positive relationship for

poor academic performance in school with exposure to violence and low socio-

economic status (under poverty line). Again black youths demonstrated higher

levels than in white youths for incarceration and pregnancy which were also

listed as major stressors for black youths. Furthermore, black teens reported

they did not feel safe at home, in their neighbourhood or at school. Therefore

it is clear that blacks demonstrate a higher risk for developing a mental health

disorder such as depression and or anxiety than do white youths.

What should we do?

There is a great deal of information and research on the topic of

depression and anxiety in psychology. Much work has also been devoted to the

causes and treatments of these two behaviours. Unfortunately, however not much

work has been devoted to mental health from the Afro-American perspective. In

order to reduce and control the rate of depression and anxiety within the Afro-

American community much more research must be done in this field. Particularly

this research must include Canadian samples because the effect that violence

exposure and socio-economic stressors have on black Canadian is bound to differ

than that of Afro-Americans slightly. In addition, research shows that blacks

require different treatments than whites and that black patients react

differently to the same drugs given to white patients.


The experience of the Afro-American patient is different than that of

the white patient. Not only does the black patient have to deal with stereotypes

as a patient but the causes of his disorders also differ than that of a white

patient. Because of this, it is important that the health profession beware that

Afro- American patients require a different kind of treatment than white

patients. Furthermore, in depth research into this epidemic may provide blacks

with new coping strategies thus reducing the amount of stressors in their live.

Eventually this type of thinking and behaviour will lead to a healthier

lifestyle that includes more eutress than distress.


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