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Faculty Research Findings:

Depression Across Ages and Races

After a knowledge drought about depression, the 1980s and 1990s brought increased medical and psychological understanding. According to John Greden, MD, Rachel Upjohn Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, chair in the Department of Psychiatry, and executive director of the U-M Depression Center, doctors now understand that a combination of genetic vulnerabilities and trauma produce alterations in the brain. With further stress—including alcohol, drugs, and poor sleep— depression can occur.

sample have considered or tried injuring themselves. While women are more likely to have recognized depression, men are more likely to have self-injury thoughts and attempts.

Contrary to popular belief, “depression is not a consequence of aging,” says Dr. Greden. Rather, with little or no intervention, depression worsens over time.


With depression affecting one out of every seven people, according to the U-M Depression Center, and with suicide the eighth leading cause of death among Americans in 2005, according to the Surgeon General, many faculty at the School are building on past research to work toward finding solutions.


Professors Matthew Howard, Briggett Ford, and Sean Joe are taking another approach to depression: the effect of culture and race. Professor Matthew Howard recently reviewed self-reports of psychiatric symptoms among incarcerated African American and White youth. Depression was found to be higher and suicide ideation significantly higher among White juvenile offenders.

From infants and mothers to elementary-school children and adolescents to the elderly, faculty are studying depression across the life span.

In October, Assistant Professor Briggett Ford spoke at a U-M Depression Center panel presentation, “Depression at Work.” Ford has found that cul- ture, race, and ethnicity affect gender differences, symptoms, diagnosis, and acceptance of depres- sion. While men tend to express their depression in anger and White women in sadness, depressed Black women tend to be irritable. us, Whites with depression are more likely to be diagnosed correctly, while Blacks with depression tend to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Professor Mary Ruffolo is one faculty member studying depression among adolescents. In the Men- tal Health Outreach Project funded by the State of Michigan Department of Community Health, she and Lecturer Dan Fischer have modified and evalu- ated evidence-based cognitive behavioral interven- tions (CBT) delivered in group formats for youth living with depression.

Preliminary findings from the first two years of the evaluation indicate that the group intervention is effective in decreasing significantly the levels of de- pressive symptoms reported by the youth. Delivering the intervention in school-based health clinics has decreased the level of stigma associated with youth seeking mental health treatment and increased their access to mental health services.

“What cultural norms and stigmas must people go past before they are willing to say they are sad?” asks Ford. She asserts that although it is more common for women than men to be allowed to be depressed, this has been changing. In addition, faced with the multiple demands and priorities of their daily lives, often people of color see the need for permission to be ill. us, if close friends and family members overlook symptoms, an African American with de- pression may be less willing to seek treatment.

Studying the other end of the life span is Associate Professor Lydia Li. With a pilot grant from the U-M Geriatrics Center, she and colleagues are studying the prevalence and correlates of depression and suicidal behavior among frail elderly persons living in the community.

Assistant Professor Sean Joe has recently focused on interventions for African American males in a com- mon consequence of depression—self-destructive behaviors, including suicidal behavior. Among those with mood disorders, he has discovered a fourfold increase in risk of attempts of suicide.

Preliminary findings suggest that depression is quite prevalent in this population, with 35 percent of the sample having recognized depression and 28 percent taking antidepressants. About 2.5 percent of the

In an article published in the November 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Joe reported the first nationally representative study for

  • · University of Michigan School of Social Work

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