- African American College Students:Literacy of Depression and Help Seeking
Depression is a serious public health concern in the United States affecting almost 18.8 million adults (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2003). It is a common mental disorder in college students (Arehart-Treichel, 2002; Song et al., 2008), with estimates of 1 in 4 "experiencing an episode by age 24" (American Psychiatric Assocation [APA], 2007). African American college students are at an elevated risk for depression due to racism, stress, sleep deprivation, and lack of academic and social support (Dzokoto, Hicks, & Miller, 2007; Kelly, Kelly, Brown, & Kelly, 1999). Even though 11.4% of African American students self-reported a psychiatric diagnosis of depression they did not report a history of utilizing campus counseling and/ or community mental health services (Soet & Sevig, 2006).
Nationwide 24% of Americans will receive treatment whereas only 16% of African Americans will seek services from specialty mental health clinics (Schnittker, 2003). African Americans often view depression as a personal weakness (Dzokoto et al., 2007) that is best addressed by faith and prayer not counseling and pharmacology (Dzokoto et al.; Shellman, Mokel, & Wright, 2007). Stigmatization, cost of treatment, lack of availability of services, and failing to recognize depressive symptoms are well known barriers to mental health utilization (Brown & Palenchar, 2004; Cooper et al., 2003). However, to date, little research addresses African American college students' mental health literacy regarding depression. This systematic and empirical knowledge gap regarding African American college students' recognition of depressive symptoms and perspectives on treatment options for depression must be addressed to avoid complications leading to other problems such as self-medication with drugs and alcohol (Shellman et al.). Therefore, the purpose of this research was to examine African American college students' mental health literacy regarding depression. Previous studies using this approach have found that individuals who are mental health literate are likely to seek help for themselves, and/or recommend professional assistance to family and friends experiencing symptoms of depression (Jorm, Kitchener, O'Kearney, & Dear, 2004).
Fifty-four African American college students participated in a survey about mental health literacy. Inclusion criteria were individuals who self-identified as African American, were currently enrolled in coursework at the institution, and were between the ages of 18 and 24. [End Page 497]
After presentations about the study to African American student organizations on campus, interested students completed a written consent form and the survey. Students' responses were confidential.
The mental health literacy survey consists of two vignettes from the original survey (Jorm, 2000). The vignette features either Tom or Mary, characters experiencing DSM-IV (APA, 2007) depressive symptoms, who were renamed Damon and Keisha to reflect common African American names. After reading the vignette, students answered two open-ended questions: (a) What would you say, if anything, is wrong with Damon/Keisha? and (b) with or without professional help, what do you think are Damon/Keisha's chance of recovery? Researchers coded participants as those who identified depression (ID group) and those who did not (No ID) based on the first question. Additionally, researchers coded responses to the second question into three categories: (a) will recover with professional help, (b) limited chance of recovery without professional help, and (c) will not recover without professional help. Respondents then categorized helping professionals (e.g., social workers, psychologists, and clergy) and interventions (e.g., antidepressants, vitamins, or admission into a psychiatric hospital) as helpful, harmful, or neither helpful nor harmful to the person in the vignette. Three additional questions, guided by work on mental illness in African American culture (Dzokoto et al., 2007; Kelly et al., 1999) included: (a) Is there a stigma related to mental illness in the African American culture? (b) What is needed to reduce the stigma in the African American culture? and (c) Where can you find information on mental health? Finally, respondents provided their age, gender, current class standing, hometown, year of graduation, family income, and parents' educational background.
Mental Health Literacy
In general, respondents were female (38 of 54), over 18 years old...