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Sad_Male.jpgFeeling Blue: Coping with Sadness, Hopelessness, and Despair

 Each and every one of us will experience a period of sadness, hopelessness, and despair at least once in our life time.   We will experience the loss or death of a loved one.  We may come face-to-face with a tragedy or trauma.  We will most likely have at least one episode of family drama where we have a falling out with one or more of our family members.  We may have even experienced a childhood incident or trauma that impacts our interpersonal relationships.  Through all of our life experiences, we will most likely have to work through feelings of grief, sadness, anger, loneliness, hopelessness, and despair.  These familiar feelings are symptoms of “depression.”

 Depression is a taboo subject within our African-American culture.  It somehow connotes the image of shame, personal weakness and failure. This, unfortunately, is a gross misperception and inaccurate interpretation of Depression.  Depression is a normal response to life events or situations for which you may have no control.  In some cases, depression is caused by biological and genetic factors for which we cannot be responsible but we can take responsibility for improving our emotional health and well-being.  One of the key things we can do to begin to help ourselves is to recognize the symptoms of depression.

 Am I Depressed?  You may be depressed if you are experiencing three or more of the following symptoms:

  •  Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness – Believing that your life will not get better and there is nothing that can be done to change how you feel
  • Loss of interest in activities and events that you enjoy doing – Not having an interest in those activities and events that typically bring you joy and fulfillment
  • Appetite or weight changes – Significant weight loss or weight gain within a brief period of time which is not associated with side effects of medications that you may be taking
  • Sleep changes – Difficulty sleeping or sleeping for long periods of time
  • Anger or irritability – Feeling impatient, having a short temper, feeling agitated, or possible rage or violent
  • Tired or Fatigued – Feeling physically drained, unmotivated, feelings of heaviness, or exhaustion
  • Low  or no self-esteem – Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt; highly self-critical and harsh on yourself
  • Irresponsible and self-abusing behavior – Denying and covering up your feelings through drinking alcohol or using illicit substances
  • Poor concentration – Difficulty focusing, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Unexplained aches and pains – Feeling physical aches and pains for which there is no medical problem

 As an African-American culture, we have historically denied mental health problems in ourselves, families, and communities.  This is most likely attributed to the stigma associated with emotional suffering and psychological functioning.  We must recognize that failure to address and treat these symptoms result in the growing disproportional representation of chronic illness like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in ourselves, families, and community.  However there are things we can do to help ourselves and each other.

  What can I do?

  •  Acknowledge your feelings and symptoms – Do not deny or avoid what you are feeling and experiencing
  • Self-disclose – Once you have acknowledged your symptoms, it is critical to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and  what symptoms you are experiencing
  • Seek therapy and professional counseling – Therapists are trained to counsel, guide, and support persons with depression.  They hold your confidences and cannot discuss your sessions with anyone as they are bound by law to keep your private and personal information confidential.

 What I should not do?

  •  Do not deny, minimize, or falsely justify your symptoms – Avoid the tendency to let shame, pride, and embarrassment overcome your good judgment to seek help
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or smoking weed – Alcohol and marijuana can worsen your symptoms as they both act as depressants
  • Do not listen to naysayers that dissuade you from seeking help – While our loved ones and friends have good intentions, do not allow yourself to be swayed into thinking that you will get over it on your own or that you are just going through a phase, or that you may be viewed as “crazy”.

 Where can I get help?

 Professional Counselors, Therapists, and Psychiatrists – If you know of a friend or loved-one who has benefited from counseling, ask them for referral.  If you have insurance, your coverage may include mental health services.  Look for a therapist in your insurance membership directory or speak with your primary care physician for a referral.   If you do not have insurance coverage, you can receive low-cost counseling from a non-profit agency or no-cost services from the County of Los Angeles Department of Mental Health.

 As a spiritual people and community of faith, our greatest gift is our life.  What better way to show and demonstrate our appreciation and love to our higher power and beloved deity by honoring our physical body temple and being proactive in taking care of our emotional and physical health.  Let’s take care of our family, friends, and community by first taking care of ourselves.

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