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Does Race Play a Role in the Risk for Depression?

Does Race Play a Role in Risk For Depression?

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Depression can affect anyone, of all background and ages.  There are many risk factors that play a role in the chances of you being affected with depression. Factors such as family history, childhood trauma and environmental influences all play a role.  However, could there be more to the story? Now, a new study is saying that race could be another risk factor for depression.

Depression is a very dark and uncomfortable place to be in. Those who suffer from the condition often feel out of control, numb and helpless. The University of Michigan Medical School wanted to learn more about depression by looking at it from the perspective of race.

Clinical depression is more than just struggling with the “ups” and “downs” of life. It is normal to feel sad when something bad happens, or when you or going through financial problems. However, for some, the sadness never goes away and keeps coming back. If your sad state lasts longer than it should, it is time to seek professional help.

For African Americans, depression may be exhibited different due to cultural differences. The following symptoms are a sign of clinical depression. If you exhibit five or more of the symptoms for longer than two weeks, of if you feel suicidal, bring these symptoms up to a medical professional:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
  • Sleeping too much or too little, early-morning waking
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

The study suggests that the way depression is treated among Caucasians may not be as effective among African Americans . Instead, they suggest that medical professionals should listen to how blacks describe their mental health to better understand how to treat it.

The participants — 2,205 Caucasians and 1,156 African Americans –took a standard depression screening test. The study was based at the U-M Institute for Social Research and was a long-term tracking study. Questions were asked regularly about their emotions, sleep, appetite and energy levels.

Fifteen years after the initial study, the participants underwent a more thorough evaluation to assess their mental health. In general, those who scored higher with depressive symptoms at the onset of the study were more likely to have depressive symptoms at a later day.

The results were even more interested when they broke it down according to race. Caucasians participants who were likely to have depressive symptoms at the beginning to the study were even more likely to have depression at the end of the study. However, African Americans revealed a different story.

African American participants who showed early risk for depression determined their chance for developing major depression by the questions answered on the self-rated health section of the initial questionnaire. Those who self-reported that their health was negative at the start of the testing were more likely to have depression later on. This varies from the other group who were just at risk for symptoms.

“Counting the number of symptoms does not similarly inform us about the subsequent risk of the clinical disorder similarly for whites and blacks,” says Shervin Assari, M.D., MPH, senior author of the paper and a research investigator in the U-M Department of Psychiatry. “This finding questions the universal applicability of a tool which has been developed and validated for whites. The results also have major implications for screening and treatment of depression in black communities.”

The test conducted by colleagues at the Iran University of Medical Sciences revealed that there were differences between African Americans and Caucasians when it came to measuring differences in depression. In African Americans, it seemed as if earlier symptoms of depression were indicative of a high chance of clinical depression later on.

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