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  • Udodiri Okwandu

Depression Series: Recognizing the Signs

"I just feel consumed by this constant feeling of hopelessness."

"I can't sleep. I barely eat. I don't have any energy. Everything just feels so suspended."

"Nothing makes me happy anymore. Nothing. I don't feel like myself."

Experiencing feelings of sadness or disillusionment is a natural and unavoidable emotional experience. But what happens when sadness transcends from a fleeting emotional experience to one that characterizes your entire state of being for weeks or months on end? This feeling describes depression, a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness and loss of pleasure in things once found pleasurable (anhedonia). Other symptoms include difficulty concentrating, making decision, and remembering details, loss of energy, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness, irritability, overeating or loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or insomnia, persistent aches or pains, and thoughts of suicide.

Some common types of  Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Maternal Depression, a common type that occurs in expecting and new mothers, will be discussed in more detail in another part of the Depression Series.

MDD: An individual is diagnosed with MDD if he or she exhibits five or more of the above mentioned symptoms for most days for 2 weeks or more. At least one of the symptoms must be a depressed mood or loss of interest in activities.

PDD: An individual is diagnosed with PDD if they experience a mild form of depression that lasts for two years or more.

SAD: This form of depression typically occurs during the winter months , when the days grow short and you get less and less sunlight.

Why is it important for African-American women to be aware of the signs of depression?

  1. In the general population, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men.

  2. In comparison to their white counterparts, African-Americans are more likely to report major depression than whites.

  3. As a result, African-American women have two factors that automatically increase their risk of experiencing depression: being a women and being African-American.

  4. Despite this, African American women are less likely to seek treatment due to stigmatization within their communities and lead to to neglect their debilitating symptoms.

African-American women have a unique lived experience that can increase their risk of falling prey to depression. Forces such as poverty, parenting, racial and gender discrimination put black women at greater risk for major depressive disorder (MDD).It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression to ensure that treatment can be sought sooner than later.

In the next installment of the Depression Series, I will be discussing the dynamic relationship between discrimination, stigma, and depression.


About Udodiri Okwandu

Hello! My name is Udodiri and I am currently a senior at Harvard University where I study History and Science (with a focus in Brain Disorders and Psychopathology) and minor in Global Health & Health Policy. I’m the 5th out of seven daughters of Nigerian immigrants and originally hail from Los Angeles, California. I am truly passionate about increasing access to health care, alleviating health care disparities, and ensuring that public health initiatives take a holistic approach that serve to address the unique needs of each community. My most transformative public health experience thus far was when I had the opportunity to participate in HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis research and work with community health workers in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa last summer. I am so excited to be serving as a CC interning and working to enhance the health experiences of women of color in the greater Boston area.


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