Harlem Word: Dr. Sidney Hankerson talks about depression

Dr. Sidney Hankerson is a psychiatrist who is currently working at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.  His work focuses on mental health within the African American community. Here, he describes depression, its symptoms, and how common depression is for African Americans.

Q. What is depression and why is it so important for community members to know about it?

A. When you think of the word “depression,” most people think of feeling sad or blue or “down in the dumps” feelings that we all have at times. But when a person is diagnosed with clinical depression it means that they have a mood disorder, which is a medical illness. While some of us may feel sad or blue for a short time, a person must be in a depressed mood, feeling down, or completely blue over a two-week period in order to be “clinically depressed.” The depressed person may not be interested or find pleasure in the activities that they used to enjoy, like their hobbies. They may also have a number of other problems like poor sleep, poor appetite, not being able to concentrate, feeling guilty or worthless, and even have thoughts about death or wanting to commit suicide. 

Depression can look different for different people. It can often show up in physical ways such as having headaches or stomachaches, or lead to drug use.  It can cause problems in relationships, especially between couples.  Depression can also affect children when a parent is depressed.  Studies show that when a mother is depressed, her children are more likely to be depressed because they may be affected by the major changes in her behavior.

Q. If there was one thing you would want people to know about depression, what would that be?

A. That depression can really weaken a person. It is a common problem, and it is estimated that about one in four people in the United States will be “clinically depressed” at some time in their life. However, it’s important to remember that there are many treatments for depression available.

Harlem Word is a series of interviews with Northern Manhattan health experts, written by HHPC and reviewed by our Health Advisory Board.

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