The last time I was really depressed was in response to a break up; unexpected heartbreak sent me into a depressive episode that took a few months to pass. I was crying frequently, my appetite was low and I started to lose weight, I’m usually an outgoing and sociable person but I didn’t want to spend time with my friends, my energy and mood were low, and I felt sad most of the time.
Sometimes depression comes in response to a difficult experience like a break up, the loss of a friendship, or a loved one passing away. Other times, depression emerges unexpectedly and without a clear trigger. No matter what prompts depression, it seems to roll in like a heavy thundercloud, weighing on us, making the air thick and hard to move through, blocking out the sun and warmth, and causing us to question what life was like without this cloud of depression and to wonder whether whether this storm will ever pass.
Depression is under-diagnosed among black women and not enough of us get the help that we need when we are depressed. One major issue that prevents black women from getting help is the ongoing stigma about mental illness in the black community. Feeling like you will be judged if you acknowledge that you need help keeps many people from seeking therapy, which could save their lives and help them thrive. Another factor that keeps black women from getting care is a lack of knowledge about, and access to, mental health services. There are not enough mental health services available, particularly for those who do not have private insurance. Thankfully, there are laws that require insurance companies to cover mental health services; if you do have insurance I encourage you to check into your options before assuming that there are no affordable therapists available to you. Check out this post on finding and choosing a therapist if you want guidance in this area. Another factor that contributes to black women being under-diagnosed with depression and not identifying when they need help is that depression can look different among black women.
In addition to the common symptoms of depression (low mood, sadness, not enjoying things, sleeping too much or too little, irritability, hopelessness) black women may also experience some symptoms that are less recognized as being a part of depression. I am taking these signs of depression in black women from the book Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America a book that I highly recommend (I’m biased because my mom co-authored it). Please note, experiencing any of these symptoms is not a diagnosis but may point to depression. If you are having some of these symptoms and they have persisted for a while I strongly encourage you to seek therapy.
Losing your sense of self
Are you so busy making sure that everyone else has what they want and need that you’re not even sure what you want and need? If you have lost your sense of what you find interesting and exciting, this may be a sign that you are experiencing depression. Losing your sense of self can cause feelings of low motivation and low energy.
What to do: Make some room for yourself in your life. Identify what you are interested in and think about how you can incorporate those things into your life on a regular basis. Identify ways that you can better prioritize yourself and your needs.
Trying to look good to prevent yourself from feeling bad
As black women, we tend to take a lot of pride in how we look and spend a lot of time and energy curating outfits, making sure that twist out looks just right, and perfecting our make up and nails. All of this can be healthy, and sometimes putting on a great outfit can boost our mood. However, when we start running up credit card bills on the latest fashion trends and spending money that we don’t have to try to get the latest hair style we may be investing in our appearance when we really need to be spending time and energy taking care of our emotional well-being.
What to do: If you are spending more time and energy on your appearance than seems healthy, take a step back and consider how you can take care of your soul (reading, journaling, praying, meditating) and not just your appearance.
Overeating for comfort
Another symptom related to depression among black women is overeating. Nourishing our bodies through regular, healthy meals and snacks is important. However, if we start to eat more than we need, not because we’re hungry, but because we’re feeling stressed or down and hope that the extra bag of chips or pint of ice cream will make us feel better, it is likely a problem. If you notice yourself eating more than is healthy this may be the sign of underlying emotional stress.
What to do: Identify activities besides eating that can help you sooth yourself. This could be meditating, reading, watching tv, talking to a friend or loved one. If this issue feels too difficult to manage consider going to therapy for additional support.
If you are having physical symptoms that cannot be explained by physicians, they may be a sign of depression. Sometimes our stress comes out through headaches, back aches, stomach issues, fatigue, and other physical symptoms. These signs can be missed because they are often not connected to mental illness.
What to do: If you are having physical symptoms first get them checked out by a physician. If the doctor cannot identify an underlying medical cause consider that your physical concerns could be caused by stress. Determine areas of your life where you can reduce your stress (e.g. cut back on activities, delegate tasks, ask people for help). Try gentle exercise (e.g. yoga, walking, stretching) to help with stress release and promote physical health. Make time to engage in activities that are relaxing for you.
Final Strategy: Go to therapy
I strongly encourage you to seek out professional help if you believe that you are depressed. Depression is a real issue that is difficult to overcome. It is not as simple as just “sucking it up” and “getting over it.” Seeking support takes courage and will allow you to address the aforementioned issues in a safe, accepting, and supportive environment. For more reasons to go to therapy check out this post.