Depression within the African Diaspora Communities

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In his Public Broadcasting Corporation PBS programming show ?Faces of America,? Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. normally presents the triumphs and resiliencies of our genealogical ancestors. However, another side of that same coin that is much less discussed is that of the introspective legacy of mental health disorders. The transitions from old nations to new nations are accompanied by other demanding stressors such as the need to survive, integrate, assimilate, and/or acculturate. These demands are more strident when one contextualizes the scenarios by which some of our forefathers arrived in the United States and the manmade and environmental harshness that they needed to circumvent and overcome in a strange land. Depression appears to be one of those psychological landmines that our ancestors dealt with which is still prevalent today within the larger host societies and especially in the African Diaspora communities.

Nnamdi F. Akwada
Nnamdi F. Akwada

Indeed some have argued that the awful and inhuman legacy of slavery and segregation has manifested itself in post traumatic stress symptoms and disorders. These stressors continue to present as depressive episodes before evolving and combining with other mental health disorders to confront our family systems and societal (healthcare, mental health, and criminal justice) systems. Another contemporary heritage is that of newly arrived immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. These African Diaspora communities that have arrived within the last 40years find themselves transplanted to other societies while mourning the disruptions in their lives, the absence of close nuclear and extended families. Most times their depression and grieve also extents to the failed state of their countries of origins that might be involved in wars, economic injustices, internal colonization, and globalization alias recolonization.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders otherwise known as DSM-IV, depression falls within the spectrum of mood episodes and mood disorders. The major factor in any depressive situation is ?mood change? which can be a recent episode and/or reoccurring episodes. Depression within the African Diaspora communities like in other communities could run the gambit from mood episodes such as major depressive episode to mood disorders such as bipolar I disorder. The operative key in dealing with depressive episodes and/or disorders revolves around our abilities to identify and address symptoms before they exacerbate. There needs to be the willingness to tackle and/or address depression at the onset of presentation, rather than waiting until it becomes a compound problem which results in other symptoms and disorders.

For example, these three semi-fictional cases which are similar to recent sensational headlines in the mass media might have been resolved if competent and culturally sensitive care were afforded. Thus there needs to be detailed investigations to uncover the relationship between depression and the preceding events. Headline 1: Philadelphia police and the FBI have captured a group of Sierra Leonean men who were in a car theft and car shipping ring. The said young men in their 20?s and 30?s have been known to operate a criminal syndicate with underlings throughout the east coast of the United States. Headline 2: The Washington DC police department took a 35year African American woman into custody today for child endangerment and neglect, after social workers citied her for going to Atlantic City casinos during the weekend (Friday-Sunday). She left her 3year old son, 7year old daughter, and 9year old son under the care of her 12year old daughter. Headline 3: A 45year Nigerian man was arrested in the Cleveland Ohio area for killing his wife and mother of three of his children in the midst of their heated divorce proceedings.

Vignettes: With detailed information and links to Depression: ??

1st Client- Sierra Leonean Men: The Philadelphia men were led by two cousins? 30year old Alfa and 31year old Karim who were abandoned and left to their own devices during the Sierra Leonean rebel wars from 1991-2002. Before the war Mr. Alfa was raised in Bo city by his relatives who focused mainly on the money that was sent back for his upkeep. He resented the fact that his parents were not around and he could only manage to speak with them about five times a year. He was treated like an outcast by family members and was forced to grow up quick. He presented with major abandonment challenges and got involved in the maladaptive city street lifestyle at the age of 11.

On the other hand Mr. Karim was cared for by his mother best friend in Freetown. Despite the necessary clothing and feeding that he received from his caretakers, it soon became oblivious that his situation was special. Within the household he was treated as a third class individual. Karim was responsible for attending to the needs of the other members of the household. They included the three teenage children of the madam and master (Oga) of the house. Karim soon became a punching bag at home and was forced to drop out of school in the ninth grade. After Alfa and Karim met in a camp for displaced people during the war, they travelled to Guinea and Gambia respectively.

Both guys eventually made it to the United States in 2002 as war refugees and settled in the Philadelphia (Alfa) and New Jersey (Karim) area. They were reunited during an end of year party in 2002 and subsequently discussed their difficulties with meeting family expectations. Alfa and Karim lacked high school education and could not excel in their educational pursuits due to their lack of foundational elementary studies, unlike most African immigrants in the United States who are excelling beyond measures. In 2003, both men were working minimum wage jobs and were very despondent with their attempts to climb the US economic ladder and to succeed like others within their communities.

Interestingly, in 2004 Mr. Alfa found employment as a security officer in the Philly area working at an auto dealership. He worked for about one year and decided to use his training as a scout or reconnaissance underling in Sierra Leone and security officer in the US to steal vehicles from dealership lots. Karim and other individuals within their tiny immigrant community were soon recruited into the business and with time they got the stealing and shipping business down to a science. These young men who were outcast and depressed about their family and financial situations became grandiose and histrionic with the sudden influx of dollars. The FBI estimates that between 2005 and 2011 the ?Salone Mafia? as they were fondly called, took in close to $3.5million before their national manhunt and arrest.

2nd Client- African American Mother: Ayana was the first child of her parents who relocated from South Carolina to Washington DC. Her parents came to the nation?s capital in search of greener pastures and to escape the systematic racism in the southern United States otherwise known as the so-called Bible belt. Though Ayana was older than her younger brother, she was loved dotingly by her parents and especially her father. In other words she was the sugar in his tea, apple of his eyes, and she was spoil rotten by her dad. When they arrived in DC she was 4years old, her brother was 2year, and both parents began working with dad going off at night and mom reporting to midday work. These were the good old days for Ayana and her brother and they relished in the affection they got from both parents and their neighbors.

However, things fell apart when little Ayana turned 9years and got the news that her father suddenly died of brain aneurism. The family was so devastated and gradually their situations began to take a turn for the worse. ?Ayana because extremely depressed and suffered from anxiety throughout her high school due to her fear of losing her mother who worked very hard to provide for them. Her brother Jamal was not as fortunate as his sister and ended up dropping out of school due to the lack of parental discipline and guidance. While his mother was working he went out and interacted with antisocial and criminally inclined individuals that were unlike his father. Jamal eventually got swept up in the drug dealing and drug using epidemics that have invaded urban cities in the United States.

On the other hand Ayana went to work for the DC government despite her presentation of moderate adjustment disorder. She eventually married Mr. Latrell Chisom who reminded her of her father while loving and taking care of her as such. She would begin to trust again whilst letting go of her depressive anxieties and feeling of worthlessness. The couples decided to make a family and went on to have two daughters and a son while experiencing the quintessential middle-income lifestyle in the DMV area. Things were going so good that Ayana reached out to her younger brother Jamal who was now a father of seven children with four different women. She knew he needed some therapeutic intervention because he was depressed and suffered from social withdrawal.

Interestingly, her plans did not completely come to fusion as Mr. Chisom was murdered during a robbery by a 17year juvenile. This second significant lost in Ayana?s life drove her into a free fall and would ultimately result in her callous decision making behavior and nonchalant attitude towards her children. She went on to have her last child by a man who did not care for neither his child nor her other children. Darien felt Ayana during the second trimester and her 10year old daughter evolved into the second parent in their home. By the time Ayana delivered the baby and the after he turned a year, it was not unusual for her to retire to her room when she got home from work with her cannabis and beer. These feelings of irritability, fatigue, and cry for help increased within two years and comminuted into weekend outings while the kids remained unsupervised.

3rd Client- Nigerian Man: Nnaemeka came to the United States from south-eastern Nigerian when he was just 22years old. He settled down at Chicago the windy city in Illinois State and within six months he was enrolled at the University of Chicago. His flight out of Nigeria was his first time on a plane and his first time outside the African continent. At Chicago he stayed with his 32year second cousin Uche who had been in the city for about 5years. Before coming to the US his cousin resided in Port-Harcourt the garden city and was more exposed to Nigerians from different tribes. At the garden city Uche also interacted and studied with foreigners from neighboring African countries and around the globe.

Although, he was with family, Nnaemeka struggled to be conditioned to the cold environment and the hostility from fellow blacks who used African to connote a four letter word. Uche consoled him and told him that he was experiencing the baptism of fire that was synonymous with new African immigrants that have come to America. He became depressed and longed for the familiarity of his home, family, and indigenous foods. Then Uche suggested that he Nnaemeka should let go of his guards, mingle, and possibly go out on dates. But Nnaemeka went on to apply himself more into his studies on campus and with time found other African Americans that were more welcoming. In his final year as he worked towards his convocation for a degree in business administration he began dating an African American lady who was a junior in the University.

Astonishingly, Uche went on to marry a lady from Georgia and left the Chicago area for love and better climate. Nnaemeka was under the impression that they were only going to date American women but never marry them. In fact, he was opposed to marrying any other African women that was not Nigerian and was not from the Igbo ethnicity. He went on to breakup with Tanya his African American girlfriend after she hinted him about marriage. After ending the relationship he underwent depression, guilt, and extreme frustration. He nearly lost his job as a business consultant in the private sector. Nnaemeka would go on to date a Tanzanian lady who promptly introduced him to Eastern African Bongo flava and cuisine. Barnaba also introduced him to the Swahili language and Nnaemeka seemed happy for the first time in a long while.

Although this infusion of joy was then challenged by his mother and sister who called from Umuahia Nigeria to inform him that it was time for him to get married and they knew two good prospects. Nnaemeka flew into Nigeria got engaged and performed the traditional rites without telling his girlfriend Barnaba. He held on for one year to prepare the necessary paperwork for his fianc? because he could not let go of Barnaba who enabled him to resolve some of his social inhibitions and provided nurturance. Except that the pressures continued from Nigeria with threats of Nnaemeka getting disowned by his family if he refused to sponsor his soon to be wife.

Eventually, he broke down to Barnaba and told her all that was happening behind the scene. Presented with the choice between his heart and his family, his so-called family emerged victorious and fianc? Chidora whom he did not know from Adam arrived in the windy city. She would go no to enroll in nursing school and become a nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. They started making a family and settled into the suburbs with their dual income. Their American Dream who soon come to an end after Nnaemeka lost his job in the financial sector and found out that his wife was not interested in assuming the responsibilities of the bread winner for even a day. She was more interested with sending her monies to her parents, brothers, and sisters back in Nigeria who divorced themselves from any personal aspirations of bettering their situations. The friction became so onerous that Nnaemeka felt inadequate and moved to the basement. As his depression and hypersensitivity increased to an adjustment disorder he began to contemplate a cowardice way of fixing his problems.

Nnamdi F. Akwada MSW, BA is a Social Justice Activist? ?????

Please for questions and concerns about depression reach out to a competent clinician and/or clergy.

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