Prevalence and distribution of major depressive disorder in African Americans, Caribbean blacks, and non-Hispanic whites: results from the National Survey of American Life

David R Williams, Hector M González, Harold Neighbors, Randolph Nesse, Jamie M Abelson, Julie Sweetman, James S Jackson
Archives of General Psychiatry 2007, 64 (3): 305-15

CONTEXT: Little is known about the relationship between race/ethnicity and depression among US blacks.

OBJECTIVE: To estimate the prevalence, persistence, treatment, and disability of depression in African Americans, Caribbean blacks, and non-Hispanic whites in the National Survey of American Life.

DESIGN: A slightly modified adaptation of the World Health Organization World Mental Health version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

SETTING: National household probability samples of noninstitutionalized African Americans, Caribbean blacks, and non-Hispanic whites in the United States conducted between February 2, 2001, and June 30, 2003.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 3570 African Americans, 1621 Caribbean blacks, and 891 non-Hispanic whites aged 18 years and older (N = 6082).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Lifetime and 12-month diagnoses of DSM-IV major depressive disorder (MDD), 12-month mental health services use, and MDD disability as quantified using the Sheehan Disability Scale and the World Health Organization's Disability Assessment Schedule II.

RESULTS: Lifetime MDD prevalence estimates were highest for whites (17.9%), followed by Caribbean blacks (12.9%) and African Americans (10.4%); however, 12-month MDD estimates across groups were similar. The chronicity of MDD was higher for both black groups (56.5% for African Americans and 56.0% for Caribbean blacks) than for whites (38.6%). Fewer than half of the African Americans (45.0%) and fewer than a quarter (24.3%) of the Caribbean blacks who met the criteria received any form of MDD therapy. In addition, relative to whites, both black groups were more likely to rate their MDD as severe or very severe and more disabling.

CONCLUSIONS: When MDD affects African Americans and Caribbean blacks, it is usually untreated and is more severe and disabling compared with that in non-Hispanic whites. The burden of mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, may be higher among US blacks than in US whites.

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