Yes, you read right…Black Teens Get Depressed Too. Depression amongst children and young people isn’t the preserve of white people only and the earlier we wake up to this fact the sooner we will be able to support our teens better through what can be the most difficult and challenging times of their lives.
The following four facts from the Mental Health Foundation (UK) should help in our understanding of the extent by which depression and mental health is affecting children:
- In general, rates of mental health problems are thought to be higher in minority ethnic groups in the UK than in the white population, but they are less likely to have their mental health problems detected by a GP.
- Depression in ethnic minority groups has been found to be up to 60% higher than in the white population.
- Estimates vary, but research suggests that 20% of children have a mental health problem in any given year, and about 10% at any one time.
- Rates of mental health problems among children increase as they reach adolescence. Disorders affect 10.4% of boys aged 5-10, rising to 12.8% of boys aged 11-15, and 5.9% of girls aged 5-10, rising to 9.65% of girls aged 11-15.
I grew up in Ghana, I don’t ever recall having known or that I came across any cases of depression until I moved to the UK aged 27. Ignorantly I quickly concluded that Africans or black people in general do not suffer from depression, yet I knew there were many cases of mentally ill patients in Ghana. Like most conditions that aren’t well diagnosed, understood or quickly labelled as a spiritual phenomena; depression being one of these and in fact a mental health condition. My subsequent years of experience in social work however, quickly broke the myth that black or coloured people (children and young people alike) were immune to depression.
According to a study conducted by the US Office of Minority Health, people of African American descent or those that identify themselves as black are 20% more likely to have serous psychological distress as an adult. That makes raising black children who are resilient to depression and to this psychological distress extremely important. The confluence of racism, identity, and fewer treatment options can make this a serious concern for all mothers, but especially for black single mothers, who may find themselves raising black children who, because of their situation, are at a higher risk of developing depression, not just as adults, but also as teenagers.
Just as with any illness, spotting the signs early and obtaining treatment is the best way to deal with depression. But how can you tell the difference between the disconnectedness and moodiness that comes with being a teenager and the very real symptoms of depression? Here’s how to spot the signs of teenage depression:
- Social withdrawal – Most teenagers will begin to pull away from their parents and will begin to depend on their social circles more and more. This is an important part of development and a reality of growing up. Those that recoil from their social circles, especially those that once had healthy relationships with their peers and have suddenly become withdrawn, may be depressed. For those raising black boys, paying attention to his interactions with his friends and noticing when he withdraws from his social life, can help you spot depression.
- Behavioural problems – Teenagers misbehave—it’s what they do. They are starting to learn that their parents are not the gods they once believed them to be, and they are pushing their boundaries. However, when behavioural problems go beyond the “right of passage” misbehaviour” that most teenagers exhibit, and into more dangerous or aggressive territory, this could be a sign that he is depressed.
- Withdrawing from beloved activities – Losing interest in activities that he once loved is one of the more major signs of teenage depression. While it is common for teenagers to start trying their hands at new activities, if he has been a long time video game player, musician, sports fan or player, etc. and suddenly loses interest in that activity, this could be something more severe than simply changing tastes. This is symptomatic of a loss of passion for life.
- Issues at school – Teenage boys naturally become more aggressive—it’s in their DNA and their changing chemistry. As their body starts to produce testosterone, they become more aggressive, but most do not become so aggressive that they are starting fights with their peers or begin acting out at school. Having serious issues at school could be indicative of a more severe problem than simply higher testosterone levels. Other issues like falling grades, having difficulty paying attention in class, and being indecisive can also indicate depression.
- Sadness – We all experience sadness from time to time. Even normally happy people who are not struggling with depression will randomly feel sad. This is not the same as depression. Depression is an enduring, almost suffocating sadness that persists. Those with diagnosed depression often compare it to struggling to stay above choppy water—it’s often feels easier to just let go than to continue trying to tread water and stay afloat, which is why many depressed teenagers contemplate suicide. If you notice that your son has prolonged sadness and has started to openly express a desire to die, these are two of the most alarming signs of depression.
- A lack of self-esteem – Especially if your teen was a confident and adventurous child, suddenly exhibiting self-consciousness where he once had bravado should be troubling. Teenagers that are depressed have a little voice in the back of their head that tells them they are unloved and worthless. This, of course, isn’t true, but once the idea pops into their heads, it can begin a downwards spiral into depression. Depressed teens will be very critical of themselves and will never be satisfied with how they look.
While one of these signs of depression alone may not actually indicate depression, more than one definitely can. You know your child better than anyone else, and any sudden change in habits, diet, and self-esteem should be cause for concern.
Teenagers grow and change. Their tastes change, they might no longer hang out with the same people they were friend with as children, and their interests shift. Extremes are what those raising and educating black boys should be looking for. Depression is rarely something that you grow out of, but catching it early and getting your son the right treatment can prevent it from becoming a serious burden.