DEPRESSION AND EMOTIONAL DISTRESS IN YOUNG, LOW-INCOME AFRICAN-AMERICAN MEN AND FATHERS
Fitzgerald, Megan E.
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Depression is a debilitating mental illness that in its most serious form, major depression, has affected between 3.6% to 12.7% of men in the United States (Cochran & Rabinowitz, 2000; Jonas, Brody, Roper, & Narrow, 2003; Kessler, McGonagle, Zhao, & Nelson, 1994). It has consistently been found to be twice as prevalent in women as in men, and yet the suicide rate of men is four to five times that of women (Singh, Kochanek, & MacDorman, 1996; World Health Organization, 2005). Despite this, little is known about the experience and expression of the full range of depression in men, and specifically, young, low-income men of color who are fathers. When young fathers suffer from depression, there are enormous consequences for young families, both financial and emotional (Ansseau et al., 2008; Mirowsky & Ross, 2002; Montgomery, Cook, Bartley, & Wadsworth, 1999; Patten et al., 2006; Rehman, Gollan, & Mortimer, 2008; Soares, Macassa, Grossi, & Viitasara, 2008). It is possible that the risk for depression increases when fatherhood includes the challenges of nonresidential parenting and financial stress (Cochran & Rabinowitz, 2002; Roy, 2004). This has implications for their co-parenting relationships, and shapes their identities and roles as parents and providers (Bouma, Ormel, Verhulst, & Oldehinkel, 2008; Kim, Capaldi, & Stoolmiller, 2003). However, fatherhood also brings many opportunities for young men; it is a chance for them to be generative for the first time in their lives and to experience the joys that accompany the challenges of parenthood (Palkovitz, Copes, & Woolfolk, 2001). I conducted research guided by a combination of symbolic interaction theory and the cognitive theory of depression to answer the following questions: how does depression emerge in toxic environments, how do young men experience and express the full range of depression in those environments over time, and, what was the reciprocal relationship between depression and fatherhood? I conducted in-depth interviews with 40 at risk, low-income young African-American men and fathers. Growing up in high crime neighborhoods meant that many had strained and fractured relationships with law enforcement, teachers, peers, and families. Young men engaged in identity work while trying to avoid problems at school and with law enforcement. They also reported substantial substance abuse, usually starting recreationally, but moving to daily self-medication for stress and anger. Depression was expressed at multiple points, through depressive language, extensive anger histories, fatigue, protracted cycles of avoidance, and episodes of major depression. Young men who were also young fathers found that fatherhood brought added responsibilities, which added to stress, but also found great joy and motivation in their children.