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Young Black men suffer from high rates of depression

By Frederick H. Lowe -Editor, | Last updated: Mar 4, 2014 - 9:25:25 PM

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Feeling constant, intense surveillance, they are hyper-vigilant for signs of danger

CHICAGO - Young Black men suffer from much higher rates of depression because of trauma compared to their White counterparts, and many Black men don’t recognize that they have been traumatized, Dr. Waldo E. Johnson Jr. said during a one-day symposium at the University of Chicago.


Because young Black men and Black men rarely find places where they can feel safe, they are on hyper-surveillance concerning their surroundings, and they are hyper-vigilant to any signs of danger coming from the police, or individuals who act like the police, such as a George Zimmerman, security guards following them in stores and other individuals in positions of authority, Dr. Johnson said. He added Feb. 16 that Black men always are under intense surveillance by others.

Dr. Johnson made his comments during the opening panel discussion at a symposium titled “Black Young Men In America: Rising Above Social and Racial Prejudice, Trauma, and Educational Disparities,” which was held at The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Dr. Johnson, author of “Social Work with African American Males: Health, Mental Health and Social Policy,” said trauma is caused by any number of events, including: violence, bullying, sexual abuse, physical abuse, loss of a parent, incarceration of a parent, loss of childhood friends, and family members succumbing to the use of drugs.

The educational experience for Black males is often traumatic

He explained that African American male educational experience can be traumatic. Dr. Johnson said Black boys are disproportionately suspended from school, given high numbers of in-school timeouts and assigned to special education classes because teachers believe they are incapable of learning. These traumatic incidents make Black boys’ educational experiences considerably different from those of young White males. As a result of these negative experiences, Black boys brains become wired differently from White boys.

“Black boys are more depressed because they believe their physical safety is always being threatened. Their families are economically poorer than Whites and many Black families live below the poverty line,” he said.

According to many researchers, including Charles H. Hennekens, M.D., of Florida Atlantic University’s School of Medicine, homicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men, a phenomenon he has referred to as a “national tragedy.”

Though suicide rates are generally lower among Blacks than Whites in the United States, the suicide rate for young Black men between the ages of 20 and 24 years old is highest among Blacks of all ages and both genders.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for Black men in this age range is 18.8 per 100,000.

Dr. Johnson noted that Dr. Michael A. Lindsey, associate professor of Social Work at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, has written that African-American adolescent boys under-utilize mental health services due to the stigma associated with depression.

Dr. Lindsey’s comments are contained in a study, titled “Family Matters: The Role of Mental Health Stigma and Social Support on Depressive Symptoms and Subsequent Help Seeking Among African American Boys.”

“While treatable, there are significant racial and gender differences concerning who gets treatment for depression,” Dr. Lindsey wrote. “Few children and adolescents, especially African-American adolescents with a depressive disorder, receive care.”

He added that Black boys may be compromised by gender-based notions that men who show their emotions are weak.

The conference, which drew a record crowd from diverse backgrounds, including academics, journalists, social workers, students and individuals who work with men in Black churches, want to create environments where young Black males feel safe to discuss openly issues that affect them.