Depressive Symptoms Predict Major Depressive Disorder after 15 Years among Whites but Not Blacks

Depression can strike anyone, taking a toll on mental and physical health, friendships, work and studies. But figuring out who’s at risk for it is still a murky task. A new study suggests that standard ways of looking for depression risk may not work as well among blacks as they do among whites. But listening to how blacks describe their own mental health could help.

In a paper newly published online in Frontiers in Public Health, a researcher from the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health, and his colleague, report results from a new analysis of long-term data from the nationally representative Americans’ Changing Lives study.

The participants studied — 2,205 whites and 1,156 blacks — took a standard depression screening test at the start of their involvement in the long-term tracking study, based at the U-M Institute for Social Research. Called the CES-D and used around the world for decades, it asked them a range of quick questions about their emotions, sleep, appetite, and energy levels.

Fifteen years later, they underwent a much more detailed interview meant to assess their mental health.

Those who had scored high on depressive symptoms at the outset were in general more likely to meet the definition of having major depression at the later date. But when the researchers broke the results down by race, they were surprised.

White participants whose answers on the initial screening indicated a risk for depression were indeed more likely to actually have major depression at the time of the later interview. But this didn’t hold true for blacks.

The difference persisted even after the researchers corrected for differences in the participants’ social, economic and physical health status.

What did seem to predict later depression, though, was black participants’ self-rated health, which is the answers to the simple request to rate their overall health on a scale of excellent to poor. Blacks whose self-reported health status was worse at the start were more likely to have major depression later on.

Population of focus: Adults

Links to resource:

Date: 2016

Journal: Frontiers in Public Health