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Perception of Depression amongst North American and African Cultures Essay

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Depression or “Unipolar depression is another name for Major Depressive disorder. It is a mood disorder characterized by depressed mood, it often manifests in lack of interest in family, school and social life, changes in eating and sleeping habits, emotional and medical disregard for the self, difficulty in concentrating, and loss of interest in life” (Rush, 2007).  Just like any other pathological disease, it has risk factors, signs and symptoms, and a natural course. Like any other disease it can be treated with proper medical and psychological therapy.

Yet it is not perceived as such by the community.

            There is remarkable lack of awareness about depression in the communities, in spite of the staggering statistics about the disorder. Unipolar depression affects 7-18% of the American population at least once before the age of 40 (Kassler, McGonagle & Zhao, 1994). In the United States alone, the number of females are reported to be suffering from clinical depression (Murray, 1997). It has also been observed that 2.5 percent of children and 8.

3 percent of adolescents are depressed at any given time. These rates are considerably higher than the figure of the past decades (Depression Statistics Information, Internet). Yet, it has been found that only 20 percent of depressed people undergo medical treatment (Depression Statistics Information).

This is caused by numerous reasons with ignorance or lack of concern and awareness about the disorder considered as the biggest suspect.  In fact, a United States surgeon general report  in the Hispanic community states that less than 10 percent of the mentally ill people will ever approach a mental clinic (U.S. Department of Health, 2000). This is possibly the result of lack of concern on their part, or due to the fact that in the Hispanic community’s, non-medical methods of  treatment for the depressed. It is imperative that we find out whether other communities also show a similar of lack of awareness and concern about depression.

            Social Science & medicine attempts to find cultural differences in the conceptual models of depression by an interviewed with North American immigrants and African Americans (Karasz, 2005) . His study demonstrated that Americans were more of the view that depression was a pathological disease of the body just like any other disease and required medical therapy. According to the author, the people from the African community were more likely to explain depression in terms of a social and moral problems and conformed to the belief that self management was the right way to deal with the issue of depression.

            Different communities have different perceptions about the disease, people of certain cultures prefer going to spiritual healers rather than seek medical attention (Nayem, 2005). Some cultures prefer to treat this ailment with alternative therapies to allopathic ones.  Depression, though a serious and debilitating disease, does not command the same attention as other medical disorders like heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or even obesity.

According to Pasacreta (2008) there has been little attention given to depression and its consequences when we compare it with other diseases. For example obesity has been associated with diabetes many times. Even though depression also has a similar association with type II diabetes, not many people are aware of this fact.  Since public concern is lacking in communities, many depressed people fail to come forward, and receive proper treatment. If this trend continues prevalence of depression will continue to rise.

            Though the attitudes of different cultures may vary toward the disease, it does not change the fact that “depression poses enormous costs for individual, family, and the society” (Nayem F, 2005). Depression is a severe disease with far reaching effects, starting from the patient, who may inflict self harm, leading to a family life, which cannot function in the same way as before (Scott, 2003). There has been research demonstrating depression as a burrden to people, communities, and health services as the treatment is long term and the patient has little or no productivity to society (Nayem, 2005). This research further highlights the need to conduct a survey to assess the perception of depression across various cultures.

            People are unaware of the magnitude of the problem and its economic implications. In certain cultures, inability to diagnose the disease or disregard of its seriousness lead to delayed medical opinion and treatment. Through this study, we will try to substantiate the various levels of awareness that different cultures have about the disease.

The severity of depression usually gets aggravated if it is not treated promptly after diagnosis. This leads to a greater burden on the country. Scott (2003) echoed this sentiment when he stated “In the National Health Service the cost of treating depression (£887 million) exceeds the cost of treating both hypertension (£439 million) and diabetes (£300 million). However, here, the direct health care costs are dwarfed by the indirect costs (i.e. days lost from work owing to depression exceed all other disorders and the economic burden on family members and society is considerable).

                                                                                           North American and African cultures both differ in there perceptions about depression as a disease. Different cultures may feel that depression is a problem but western cultures are more likely to view it as a disease which needs medical therapy just like any other, whereas the people from the non western culture will perceive depression as more of a social and moral problem which requires self-management. There will generally be a lack of knowledge about depression as a disease in the non western community.  The false beliefs and stigmas will be more present in non western cultures as compared to their western counterparts.

            How widespread is serious depression? According to Dr. Nathan S. Kline of the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, “it has been estimated that 15 per cent of the adult population of the United States has some degree of depression which is serious enough to be in need of treatment. This amounts to about 20 million people, which makes it not only the most frequent psychological disorder but also one of the most common of all serious medical conditions.” Depression is so widespread that it has been called “the common cold of mental disturbances.”

            Studies report that women outstrip men in suffering from depression by a ratio of about 2 to 1, though some claim that this is because women are more willing to admit that they are depressed. Depression afflicts all races and every social and economic level. While the malady is most common between the ages of sixty and seventy, it strikes all age groups and has been rising among persons in their twenties. Why do so many millions of persons suffer from depression?

            Much study has gone into uncovering the root causes of mental depression. Flaws in human society constitute one main source of the problem. Illustrating an aspect of this are comments by Dr. John Schwab, of the University of Florida College of Medicine: “We’re in an era of change right now. Old values such as the old work ethic are being rejected and people are caught in an ideological vacuum. Kids see that the fruits of four hundred years of scientific progress may be more bitter than sweet—but they don’t know what to put in its place, and consequently there is a sense of futility.” Because of this, many disillusioned youngsters seek “escape” through drugs and other means. “The search for highs among the young,” observes Dr. Schwab, “is often only a flight from the lows.”

            Also contributing to the rise in depression is “supermobility.” Families that keep changing their places of residence, hopping about from house to house and city to city, do not stay in one place long enough to build solid relationships with other people. A psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center wrote: “Psychiatrists around Boston have been aware for some time of what is called ‘the Route 128 syndrome’ or in Florida ‘the Cape Kennedy syndrome.’ It is found in young families who have moved too much, and its components are a husband too centered in his career, a depressed wife and troubled children.”

            Sometimes depression results when a person reaches a “plateau” in his life after many years of painstaking labor. A hard-driving business executive may finally achieve the top position in his company, only to realize that he no longer has a goal in life. Housewives in their forties and fifties often suffer from what psychiatrists call “empty nest syndrome.” By this time their children usually have grown up, their husbands are at work for most of each day and they must face lonely hours in houses devoid of people.

            What about the feelings of inferiority that often accompany depression? Here too the responsibility may rest with human society. How so? Because it is often at a tender age that children are made to feel unattractive. Their peers may ridicule them if they are unable to do what the majority consider the “in” thing. If a youngster tends to be clumsy and uncoordinated, schoolmates and playmates can influence the child to believe that he “can’t do anything right.” Children of this type often combine the generalization: “I am weak,” with the value judgment: “It’s disgusting to be weak.” Such youths are likely candidates for depression.




        Approximately 40 students (20 western, 20 international) students from a Midwest liberal arts college will participate in this study. All of them would be selected using randomized sampling. Participants will be offered candy for the completion of the survey.


  The survey questionnaire will consist of questions related to assessment of knowledge and attitudes towards depression and a demographic data form. The survey forms will contain closed ended questions only. It will consist of 3 parts.  The first section will consist of demographic questions to gather information about the participants: How long have they lived here. Have they adopted the western culture of living or not. The second part will consist of closed questions. The participants will have to choose from the given options in the questionnaires. There will be questions that ask whether they consider depression to be a serious disease.

Whether they believe it is a disease of the mind, body, or mind and body. Questions related to stigma would also be included for example do they believe mentally ill people are more aggressive than others? Do they believe mental illnesses are not as severe as physical ones? Do they believe depressed people can be cured with drugs only, or do they require social and community help? Moreover, to support the validation of the results of the survey, the review of literature to be utilized within the research shall show a specific scale of measure that is used by psychologists to identify the behavior of humans with regards to depression from different cultures all over the world.


            It is imperative to find out exactly how different cultures perceive depression as a disease. The researcher plans on conducting this research. This research will deal with the perception of depression as a disease amongst western and non western cultures. The research will also look into the level of awareness in different cultures about the prevalence of disease in their societies. This research will try to substantiate if the perception of depression varies with different cultures.  To complete the said aim, the research will be conducted on campus.  Participants will be debriefed on the study being researched. The researcher would then have the participants sign a consent form before they participate in the study. After which, a survey kit would then be handed out to them and they would be given three days to return them back.

Data analysis

A one way ANOVA would be conducted to analyze the data. Since we have two independent sample populations and more than two variables. This will allow for the comparison of attitudes about depression for members of Western and non-Western cultures. Using the ANOVA we can calculate whether the stated answers have associations with either the western or non western societies.


Depression Information and Fact Statistics (2008), Depression statistics and information, retrieved on February 13, 2008, from http://www.add-adhd-help-center.com/Depression/statistics.htm

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between mental distress and acculturation among migrants, psychrische praxis,   retrieved on February 13, 2008, from the NCBI database on     http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez

Karasz, A. (2005), Cultural differences in conceptual models of depression, Social Science

& medicine, 60, 1625-35, retrieved on February 13, 2008, from


Kessler, R., McGonagle K,, & Zhao S, et al. (1994) Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of

DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States: results from the National Comorbidity Survey. Arch Gen Psychiatry;51:8-19.

Murray, C., Lopez, A.D. (1997). “Alternative projections of mortality and disability by

cause 1990-2020: Global Burden of Disease Study”. Lancet 349

Neem F, Ayub M., Izhar N, Javed Z, et al (2005). Stigma and knowledge of depression,

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Pasacreta. J, (2008), Depression: Is society taking the wrong approach? , retrieved on

February 13, 2008, from http://www.helium.com/tm/646939/novel-approach-managing-depression

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U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. Mental Health: Culture, Race, Ethnicity – Supplement, A Report of the Surgeon General 1999.from: http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/cre/default.asp

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