Better Living Through Chemistry?

In last week’s blog, I discussed the fact that July is National Minority Mental Health month.  This week, I would like to share in more detail about one of the most commonly diagnosed mental conditions, which is Major Depressive Disorder, also known as depression.  While most persons with depression find that their symptoms respond fairly well to psychotherapy and/or antidepressant medication, many Blacks in my clinical experience take years before they seek professional treatment.  For one thing, many in our community do not truly believe that depression is a true phenomenon.  Persons who exhibit these symptoms are often described as lazy, avoidant, attention-seeking, or just needing to “get herself together.”  We attribute the weight gain or loss that can occur with depression as just an inevitable change in life.  At other times, some persons feel great shame in seeking help.  Perhaps they’ve been told that building more faith or a stronger prayer life can bring about healing.  They may be warned by family members not to “air dirty laundry” or share family business with strangers.  Many of us don’t understand the degree to which depression can be in our family history, and thus we are exposed to greater risk, through no fault of our own.

The good news, though, is when we do finally decide that life can be better, and make up our minds that it’s time to get help, treatment can make a significant difference in our quality of life.  Depending on how intense our mood challenges are, we may benefit from following a prescribed regimen of antidepressant medication.  Many options are available on the market, and although many primary care providers (PCPs) can provide a prescription, it is often helpful to see a psychiatrist who has expertise in antidepressants and other types of psychotropic medications and can facilitate your transition to the most effective option for you while minimizing side effects.  Your first visit will probably include a psychiatric evaluation, where the psychiatrist will ask about your symptoms, your personal and family medical history, and your preferences.  Your subsequent visits will probably be shorter medication management visits, where your psychiatrist will evaluate the effectiveness of your medication and make any needed changes to your dosage, or perhaps change you to a different medication altogether if needed.  Some medications require long-term maintenance to properly manage your symptoms, while other medications may be taken on a shorter-term basis.  Be sure to speak openly with your psychiatrist at the initial evaluation if you have concerns about the longevity of your pharmacological treatment.

Although persons of color are more likely to avoid antidepressant medication, we seem to show fewer discrepancies when it comes to other types of medications for physical conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. How can we resolve this split or dichotomy in our behavior? In addition to bringing greater awareness to these differences, we can also note the many successes that our loved ones may have achieved with medication.  If it greatly enhances quality of life and side effects can be kept to a minimum, medication for depression or any other mental disorder is worth considering.

 

À Votre Santé (“To Your Health”),

Dr. T

Tonya Armstrong

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