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12-20 Depression in black teens demands more effective treatment strategies, says study

Depression in black teens demands more effective treatment strategies, says study

Depression is increasing at a striking rate among adolescents in the United States. While depression can strike people of all age groups, income levels and education, adolescents are particularly vulnerable due to factors, such as family economics, cyberbullying and problematic social media use. A recent study, led by a Rutgers University-Camden researcher, suggested that black adolescents experienced depression differently than people of other age groups and ethnicities.

The findings, published in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) in November 2017, showed that black adolescents suffering from depression were likely to express their depressive symptoms by complaining about conflicts with others and physical pain. “Adolescent depression is a dire public concern in the United States, and even greater concern among black adolescents,” said lead researcher Wenhau Lu, an assistant professor of childhood studies at the Rutgers University-Camden.

The researchers recruited 782 black adolescents aged 11-21 from nine urban public housing developments in four large U.S. cities. Lu, along with fellow researchers from New York University, the University of Chicago and Washington University, examined the psychometric properties of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) among the participants. So far, the CES-D, which had been developed primarily to evaluate clinical depression among white adults, had not been fully validated as a screening tool among black adolescents.

Black adolescents lacking social support networks at higher risk

According to the researchers, there is a greater significance of determining depressive symptoms among black adolescents. They said that past studies have shown that black adolescents living in underprivileged community environments, such as urban public housings have a greater likelihood of experiencing higher levels of substance abuse, violence and poverty. The exposure to such environmental and social risk factors without sufficient social support networks increases their risk of developing depression.

The researchers also said that compared to their peers, there was a six-time higher risk of suicide among youth diagnosed with depression, and the suicide rate among black youth was much higher than their white counterparts. However, past surveys showed mixed results regarding the differences in suicide rates between black and white adolescents.

According to the Office of Minority Health (OMH), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):

  • 5 percent non-Hispanic black adolescents aged 15-19 died from suicide in 2014, compared to 10.9 percent non-Hispanic whites.
  • Among students in grades 9-12, 14.5 percent non-Hispanic black adolescents seriously considered suicide in 2015 (17.2 percent non-Hispanic whites) while 8.9 percent attempted suicide (6.8 percent non-Hispanic whites).

Findings from past research were also mixed regarding the differences among prevalence of depression between black and white youth. However, what appeared certain was that there was a significant unmet need for depression treatment among African-Americans and other colored youth. According to Lu, untreated depression may result in a disproportionate escalation of “various mental disorders, academic failure, and related issues.”

Customizing behavioral health treatment for black youth

According to the researchers, it is crucial to identify the distinctive ways in which black youth express depressive symptoms and “calibrate existing assessment tools to improve their psychometric property for this population.” Lu said that while assessing and treating depression among black adolescents, clinicians should give particular weightage to their complaints regarding interpersonal struggles and physical discomfort. “Treatments such as interpersonal psychotherapy may work better for this population,” said Lu.

Although usage of mental health services among adolescents is low, ethnic minority youth have a lower likelihood of receiving mental health services compared to white children. The disparity is particularly high for black children and adolescents. Stigma, negative perceptions and cultural barriers play an important part in using behavioral health treatment services among black youth.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides comprehensive behavioral health treatment for teens that is customized to meet their specific needs. If you know an adolescent suffering from depression or any other mental disorder, contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our experts for more information about the best programs to treat teens’ behavioral health problems.

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