Black women, in particular, are frequently given the wrong diagnosis by mental health providers.
It’s a known reality that minority groups struggle to get the attention they deserve in the healthcare system. Too often, members of racial minorities go undiagnosed and don’t wind up receiving the attention they need to get their health on the right track. A new study shows this unfortunate phenomenon isn’t limited to physical health either. It seems that attempts at seeking mental health care leads to the same issue, with Black women reporting yet not being diagnosed and treated appropriately. To reach that conclusion, researchers used data from 227 Black mothers that had been screened for depression.
What the study found was that these mothers tend to report different symptoms related to depression than what is often reported by other groups seeking mental health care. Typically, it’s a reduced appetite or simply a chronic low mood that leads to a depression diagnosis. However, the women in this study were more likely to point out a drop in libido, frequent irritability, and fatigue as symptoms. Unfortunately, these differences often lead to a missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, and a lack of treatment as a result.
There is no blood test for depression. It’s not possible to just order a physical test, check the results, and confirm a that clinical depression is present. The real world is far more complicated, and it’s up to healthcare providers to listen to their patients and come away with an accurate representation of their condition. There are well over a thousand different symptoms and combinations of symptoms that can cause a depression diagnosis, so this is a complicated area of healthcare, to be sure.
However, diagnostic testing exists to help standardize responses in order to make providers better equipped to give a proper diagnosis. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) or the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire) can be administered to check for symptoms. Of course, the usefulness of these assessments can only be leveraged if they’re administered.
The hope through research like this is that the diagnosis process can be refined to help healthcare providers better serve those in their care. If a doctor has a clearer picture of how various patients may be likely to describe their symptoms, it could be easier to diagnose depression even when it is described in a way that doesn’t fit with what has been considered “standard” to this point. That’s particularly important when it comes to minorities who have typically been overlooked in the research and study process. There are important cultural differences that can impact how symptoms are expressed by these groups, and quality research may be able to help close up that gap. Moreover, patients may report the standard symptoms upon direct questioning so it’s important that this part of the process happen.
When an individual who is suffering from depression does not receive a matching diagnosis from a healthcare provider, there are a couple of issues that may follow. First and foremost, the individual won’t receive appropriate treatment for their condition, as they will be sent home without an accurate diagnosis of what they are facing. That means treatments such as medication and therapy won’t be explored or won’t be helpful, and potential improvements to their condition will be missed.
Also, a lack of a formal diagnosis can leave the individual struggling with their own identity. They still know something is wrong, but are told that it “doesn’t count” in a way. So what is it? And why aren’t they getting better? These are troublesome questions that would not need to be asked if the right diagnosis had been reached in the first place.