Public Release: 

Depressive symptoms in middle-aged inner-city African-Americans higher than expected

Indiana University

Middle-aged African-Americans who live in the inner city have a higher than expected level of depressive symptoms which can lead to additional health problems, according to research from the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Regenstrief Institute, Inc.

To better understand depression in older urban African-Americans, Douglas Miller, M.D., professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a Regenstrief Institute, Inc. research scientist, and colleagues looked at depressive symptoms in middle-aged, inner-city African-Americans.

They found that more individuals in the study had clinically relevant elevations in their depressive symptoms than expected.

This study, one of very few focused on 50-64-year-olds, appears in the May 2004 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers studied nearly one thousand African-Americans living in a low-income St. Louis neighborhood as they were poised to enter their senior years and begin to encounter the disabilities that usually come with advanced age.

"We wanted to see them as they started on the path of disability and studied their depressive symptoms because of the major impact of these depressive symptoms on physical as well as mental health," said Dr.Miller. "Surprisingly, we found that middle-aged inner-city African-Americans had substantively higher levels of depressive symptoms than that found in the general U.S. population," said Dr. Miller.

Not only is depression linked with lower quality of life but it also appears to predispose people to a series of other medical problems such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and death. This study, which looked at depressive symptoms but was unable to identify whether the individuals had been diagnosed with a clinical diagnosis of depression, found that risk for increased depressive symptoms was closely tied to decreasing social support, being severely underweight or obese, or being hospitalized in the previous 12 months.

"Identifying the risk factors in this population for depressive symptoms that diminish quality of life and lead to poor physical health is not enough. We have to design programs targeted at preventing depressive symptoms that specifically meet the health and cultural needs of inner-city African-Americans, which are not necessarily the same needs as inner-city Caucasians or of suburban or rural African-Americans," said Dr. Miller.

This paper is part of the African American Health study project, a population-based study of poor, inner-city St. Louis residents and of individuals living in a suburb just northwest of St. Louis. AAH is funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Dr. Miller is associate director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research.


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