This month, the “Take Charge of Your Health Today” page focuses on depression. The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Erricka Hager, health advocate, and Esther L. Bush, president and CEO, recently spoke about this topic.

EH: Good morning, Ms. Bush. I’m excited that we’re going to be discussing depression and its effect on older adults. Despite the recent public health focus on mental health and the importance of getting help, older adults are still hesitant to do so. According to a National Institute of Mental Health survey, only 42 percent of older adults will seek help from mental health professionals.

EB: Wow! I didn’t realize that it was such a large number. We need to change that trend by addressing a common misconception about depression, which is that it’s normal to be depressed.  Sadness is normal. Depression is not. It’s an illness. If Courier readers are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with depression, then I’d encourage them to seek professional
help. There are many mental health services options. People can find a care plan that works for them.

EH: Thank you for addressing that common misconception, Ms. Bush. It is normal to experience sadness from time to time, but if you feel like that sadness isn’t going away, then it’s best to seek help. Research shows that untreated clinical depression can lead to other chronic illnesses, including diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s especially important for us, as African Americans, to seek help because of the negative effect depression has on our health and well-being. Receiving appropriate treatment for depression can help older adults lead longer, healthier lives.

EB: Thank you, Erricka, for all this information. I agree that seeking treatment is essential and a critical issue to discuss. The stigma around depression and mental illness is not unique to Black culture, but it does appear to be a bigger barrier in our community than in the general population. It’s considered a sign of personal weakness or weak faith to admit that you need help. This kind of thinking deters older adults from seeking help. How do we address that perception? No one should blame themselves for depression.

EH: That’s a great question, Ms. Bush. I have two suggestions for our readers. My first suggestion would be to get involved with research. There are two studies listed on this page that are designed to find out more about which symptoms are associated with depression in order to develop helpful treatments. As we know, African Americans are largely underrepresented in research, which prevents the development  of treatments that will benefit our communities specifically. Getting involved with research is quite simple. The Urban League’s health education office is always available  to connect Courier readers with studies that interest them. Second, I would encourage readers to simply talk. Whether that talking is with a health care professional, a family member or even God, it’s important to create a comfortable environment that will encourage older adults to talk about their mental health. When we start talking about our mental health—specifically depression—  then we can begin to change the idea that seeking help is a weakness.

EB: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, Erricka. We’ve provided readers  with some great information and ways they can take charge of their health today. I look forward to chatting with you next month as we discuss menopause.