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Life and Religion

Support is 'key' for depression in black men
Denial, embarrassment keep many from treatment
 
Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013 12:00 pm
by Kalin Thomas, The Atlanta Voice

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According to the CDC, 10 percent of American adults report depression. Many African Americans, especially men, do not seek treatment because they believe depression is a sign of weakness.

LITHONIA, Ga. – Vietnam War veteran Lloyd Alaman remembers fighting for a country that was still treating him like a second-class citizen, like it was yesterday.

“I got drafted at age 20 in 1967, so I was in Vietnam when Dr. King got assassinated,” said Alaman.  “When we got the news a white guy soldier said to us, ‘Good!  They should have killed that nigger a long time ago’.”

The 67-year-old added, “Some of our white comrades would even try to kill us while we were in battle.”

When he returned home from the war he went through a state of depression and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I didn’t want to go anywhere or face the world.  And finally, my wife told me to get checked out at the VA hospital.  That’s where I realized I wasn’t the only man going through this.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10 percent of American adults report depression.  People who suffer from it the most include those between the ages of 45 and 64, women, and blacks and Hispanics.

And according to the National Mental Health Association, there are several barriers to treatment for depression among African Americans, including:  denial, embarrassment, refusal of help and lack of health insurance.

One of the biggest reasons for denial is that 63 percent of African Americans – especially men — believe that depression is a sign of personal weakness.

“When I first started going to (therapy sessions) at the VA hospital, I wanted to sneak in there and not let anybody see me because the entrance said Mental Health Department,” Alaman said.

“There’s a stigma for men in general and especially African American men to admit to and address mental illness,” said Dr. Kisha B. Holden of Morehouse School of Medicine’s (MSM) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.  “So we are trying to better serve this specific population.”

Holden works with several mental health initiatives that MSM developed in partnership with the National Football League (NFL) and the NFL Player Care Foundation.

“The NFL is largely made up of men of color,” she said.  “So when they retire — usually in less than five years — they have to go back to their homes, relationships, etc.  And when there is a shift in how they are able to readjust to their new lifestyle, that heightens their risk for mood and anxiety disorders.”

One of the initiatives is the “NFL Community Huddle”, which helps raise awareness about mental illness and reduces the stigma so that sufferers will seek help.

Holden said support is a key component for black men suffering from depression.

That’s why Alaman started a support group for the veteran members of the Lou Walker Senior Center in Lithonia.

“Just about all the men have dealt with depression like I have,” he said.  “But we interact with each other every day at the center and many of us play pool together.  It’s very therapeutic.  If any of us is feeling depressed, after about five minutes in the pool room with men who understand us, it lifts our spirits.”

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