I’m not surprised by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health survey's findings that doctors are far less likely to prescribe antidepressants to Black and Latino patients afflicted with major depressive disorder than their white counterparts.
In their findings, race, payment source, physician ownership status and geographical region were all listed as factors that play into whether physicians decide to prescribe antidepressants to patients. Moreover, age and payment source influence which types of antidepressants patients receive. As a result, Caucasians are 1.52 times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than Black and Latino patients being treated for major depressive disorders.
The disparity in antidepressant usage between Whites and minorities often centers on stigmas within minority communities. It’s about time the focus shifted towards how the role the attitudes of others factor into the gap.
Though I was never treated for a specific major depressive disorder, I have had painful bouts with depression and anxiety through the years – and encounters with careless doctors who bypassed obvious symptoms due to their own silly biases. Less than a year ago there was a period where I feared standing up would invite the kind of pain sure to knock me down. During one week in particular, each new day brought on an even more excruciating headache than the one before. When I did finally manage to stand up, I noticed that I had broken out in several different rashes across various parts of my body. As freaked out as I was about the exterior, I was more worried that I could barely function without needing to lay down every other hour. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
Thankfully, I'd made a point to invest in an insurance plan and so I was able to see two separate doctors to help me understand what ailed me. A dermatologist suggested a skin disease. That is, before she mentioned something about the sun and syphilis. To which I said, “Unless my pillow has been sleeping around, I think I’m cool judging by the last time I was tested.” The results agreed with me. I should’ve known to exit her office the second she stopped me in the middle of talking to say I looked like Chris Rock.
Worse was the general practitioner I saw around the same time. He must have mistaken me scratching my scalp with a crack itch given his sudden questions about whether or not I was using drugs. He seemed obsessed with the fact that I “seemed a little thin,” but in hindsight maybe it was more about me being a little gay and a whole lot of Black. Or perhaps it all boils down to him being utterly clueless as to what my actual problem was.
During this ordeal, select family members and friends started asking if a recent lay off spurred the kind of stress that made my body react violent. I kept saying, “No, no, I’m handling that just fine.” Finally, after someone convincing, I found another doctor who shared their stress-centered suspicions. He suggested that perhaps if that specific job loss didn’t vex me, at the very least it was a trigger to some other longstanding issues I held in for far too long. Thankfully he caught what another refused to acknowledge.
Yes, a few years before all this happened, I broke down and asked my mother to put me in touch with a medical professional who I could speak to openly about my feelings. I had severe ups and downs and just so happened to meet that doctor during an up. He dismissed what I said to say, claiming, “I’d be fine” and didn’t bother making another appointment. Obviously, the misdiagnosis caught with me.
I can only imagine what people in more dire situations might endure with the wrong physician. I know that pills can only do so much in the way of solving a longstanding problem, but I do understand the benefits of antidepressants in the interim. And if people need them, that should be allowed equal access. Regardless of the varying reasons why they seems to be an issue to select doctors, it’s about time they address it.