The insidious link between racism and depression
In June, Janet Jackson revealed to Essence magazine that she spent her 30s battling “intense” depression. Reflecting on those “difficult years,” the singer ticked off the forces behind her struggle: low self-esteem, failing to meet “impossibly high” standards and — “of course” — racism.
While depression can be triggered by several biological and environmental factors, the link between racism and depression “is undeniable,” Suzette Speight, a psychology professor at the University of Akron, tells The Post.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-Americans are significantly more likely to report major depression than whites. Speight, who’s done extensive research on black mental health, says that study analyses “consistently find a link” between symptoms of depression and “experiences of racism.” Those span everything from race-based micro-aggressions — the subtle snubs people of color routinely face out in the world — to racially charged verbal harassment and physical assault.
trying to calm myself down. I was crying a lot and not functioning. I couldn’t get through things without going down this whole rabbit hole of, ‘You’re a piece of s–t.’”
Looking back, he says, the typical stresses of moving to a new city and establishing a career were compounded by racial anxiety.
Even in his best suit, Hardy and his dreadlocks stood out in Panama’s capital city, where less than 10 percent of the population is black. “I got questioned a lot,” he says. “It kept me constantly on edge — getting those looks, getting stopped by the police to show my passport papers.” That plus trying to do “too many things at once” pushed him over the edge: During a phone call with his parents, he confessed, “If I don’t leave, I’m probably going to kill myself.” Two weeks later, he was back stateside, on a therapist’s couch.
Hardy was lucky: He had a good support network, and landed a helpful counselor right away. But that’s not the norm for many African-Americans struggling with depression.
“There is still a large stigma related to mental-health conditions in the black community,” says Joy Harden Bradford, an Atlanta psychologist and the host of the “Therapy for Black Girls” podcast. She believes many depressed people of color suffer in silence because of that, and research backs her up: Multiple studies have found that African-Americans are less likely than whites to seek treatment for mental-health issues.