Only 7.6 percent African-Americans seek treatment for depression and mental illnesses of the staggering 13.6 percent of those who are suffering. 

Now that we are in full swing of the holiday season, I couldn’t help but to think and reflect on the African-American community as a whole as many of us use the holiday season to mask the pain and struggles we tend to experience throughout the year. Depression and mental illness is now becoming a slow and silent killer in the black community and it’s time we talk about it in an honest and open manner.

When I was 18, my father passed away during the holiday season and each year my pain and grief resurfaces as I think about the tragic way he passed away. It’s been a subject that I have masked and never openly talked it through with family and friends, but better yet, I never talked to a professional about it until recently.

With the recent news of rapper and artist Kanye West’s hospitalization I was instantly reminded that he in fact might be going through something far deeper than we could ever imagine—depression. When his mother tragically passed away in 2007, West spiraled down undoubtedly.

Artist and rapper Kendrick Lamar openly discussed his bouts with depression with his album, To Pimp A Butterfly. I sincerely applaud the rapper for being open about it as it was the prequel to a much-needed conversation in the black community.

“Depression is real. It’s something that I’ve always been ashamed to talk about,” said 24-year-old Corey O’Neal a Brooklyn native.

O’Neal is part of the 7.6 percent of African-Americans who sought treatment for depression out of the 13.6 percent of the general population that suffers from depression or some form of mental illness.

O’Neal first started feeling depressed after witnessing a loved one being killed. He says that he was never the same after that. To make matters even worse, six months after experiencing that tragic sight, his mother suddenly passed away from an undiagnosed illness.

“I felt like someone was stabbing me in the back. I didn’t want to eat, or be bothered with anyone. I stayed locked up in my room for two weeks straight.” said O’Neal.

Depression is a common but very serious mood disorder. If left untreated, it can affect how you feel, think and even handle daily activities.

“Depression has been plaguing the black community for years, but it’s been a subject that we have yet to openly talk about,” said Dr. Gwendolyn Harris, a psychiatrist.

Dr. Harris often sees patients who mostly deal with seasonal effective disorders, which is characterized as depression during the winter months.  The second most common disorder Dr. Harris treats is bipolar disorder.

“Someone who suffers from bipolar disorder experiences many different moods including mania or hypomania. It is treatable and also common in Blacks,” said Dr. Harris.

While the subject of depression and mental illness is somewhat a taboo subject in the black community, O’Neal and Dr. Harris encourages African-Americans to openly discuss and talk about it.

“I had a concerned relative that was really worried about me. I didn’t realize I was depressed until I received help. I was very depressed and was starting to have suicidal thoughts. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my relative realizing that I wasn’t myself, I’m not sure I would be here today to tell you about my story.” said O’Neal.

Dr. Harris suggests that families start the dialogue of depression by checking on close relatives and friends who seem distant to simply to see how they are feeling.

“Many of the patients I see who are suffering from depression or mental illness believes that simple social interactions would’ve made a difference in their feelings.” said Dr. Harris.

As we continue the holiday season, keep in mind to check on those long-lost relatives because truthfully, they could be experiencing a pain they are afraid to talk abou. Just by being a presence, you could save a life.

For more information on depression and ways to seek help, visit www.nmha.org.