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By On January 12th, 2018

Depression tests may not account for black teens

Mental illness can affect anyone. Depression can strike no matter what age you are, or what race you are. Additionally, depression tends to present in one of only a few different ways across all races or other demographics. However, a new study suggests one vulnerable group may be the exception.

According to a report published in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, poorer black children consistently describe their feelings of depression differently than other demographic groups. This might seem trivial on the surface, but experts believe this unique phenomenon may make these children less likely to receive or respond to treatment.

For the study, the researchers interviewed teens whose families were living on housing assistance in four major cities, including 792 black teens. The teens were all asked to complete a standard depression test called the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D). The researchers also asked the teens whether they had thoughts of committing suicide or if they had thought of a plan for suicide.

Approximately 25 percent of the black teens showed signs of moderate to severe depression, with another 17 percent showing symptoms of mild depression. The researchers also say 39 of the teens had at least considered suicide within the past year.

These rates are already higher than the 7% of the general population with clinical depression, but the tests also found that the survey may not be properly effective for black teens.

Past research indicates that people tend to express or describe their depression in one of four specific ways: somatic (physical) complaints, interpersonal issues, depressive affect, or a lack of positive affect. The CES-D is designed with this in mind. However, the black teens involved in the study did not follow any of these patterns.

“Based on previous literature and our own research findings, compared with adults and adolescents of other racial/ethnic groups, black adolescents experiencing depressive symptoms tend to express their depressed feelings by complaining about conflicts with others and physical pains and aches [at the same time],” lead author Wenhua Lu, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University, told Gizmodo.

This creates a troubling situation, according to Lu, because it suggests black teens may not match the conventional symptoms for depression.

“For example, if a black adolescent keeps complaining about physical discomforts that cannot be medically explained or diagnosed for one week or two, it may be a warning sign of depression,” Lu says.

Lu believes the discrepancies could also suggest black teens may be more responsive to different treatments, as well.

“As to treatment, interpersonal psychotherapy for adolescents, which addresses common adolescent developmental issues, such as development of dyadic interpersonal relations and peer pressure, may be more effective for black adolescents,” she says.

For now, it is unclear exactly what implications these findings may have for treating vulnerable demographic groups like poor black teens. Lu says she believes more research is needed to learn more about what historical, cultural, personal, and environmental factors could be contributing to these differences.

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