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Standing In the Shadows by John Head
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Standing In the Shadows

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Standing In the Shadows by John Head
Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307419309

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  • Dec 18, 2007 | ISBN 9780307419309

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Standing in the Shadows is a brave, unblinking look at what it is like to be an African American man with depression.  John Head’s insightful analysis of the connection between racism and this illness should be required  reading for everyone who cares that African American men are often absent from their families, are in jails and prisons in disproportionate numbers, and die at an alarming rates from suicide.”

—Cynthia Wainscott, TITLE TK

“John Head deftly takes us on a personal and cultural journey into the nature of depression and the social stigmas that surround it. Standing in the Shadows is an insightful, compelling, and practical guide.”

—Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., co-director, Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media.

“This book does not haggle with statistics and scientific discoveries . . . .it literally keeps the topic of depression and black men honest by taking us through a progressive journey that helps us understand the real hurdles. Before you delve into any medical journal . . . read this book first so that you will have a deeper understanding of the topic and develop a good foundation.”

— Donna Holland Barnes, Ph.D, resident and co-founder of the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide and assistant professor in
the department of psychiatry at Howard University.

“Neither a polemic nor a weepy tell-all, Standing in the Shadows is a sobering look at what the world’s most common mental illness is doing to a big chunk of our population—with well-researched words of hope and help for those men and the people who love them.”

—Tracy Thompson, author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

“John Head’s Standing in the Shadows is a “must read” for the black man suffering from the lingering, tormenting blues and for anyone who knows him. Head makes the experience of depression real in heartfelt, well-crafted vignettes that give substance to his demand that we acknowledge, name, understand, and do something to ease the psychic pain that many black men suffer in relative silence.”

—Sandra C. Walker, MD, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

Author Q&A

Recently, journalist John Head took time to discuss what he learned about black men and depression through his own experiences with illness and through his research, and why his book is a call to action.

This is a deeply personal book for you, and a topic that is rarely discussed. How did you decide to talk so openly about depression?

The book grew out of my Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center. My fellowship project was to write a book about access to mental health care in the black community. In doing my research, I found that getting people to tell their personal stories was the best way to show the impact of mental illness and the importance of getting help. I decided I couldn’t urge others to tell their stories if I was unwilling to talk openly about my own struggles with depression. Even after getting help, I hadn’t spoken about my experiences. It’s not an easy thing to do. But it is worth it if my story shows others that recovery from depression is possible, that there is reason for hope.

What are some of the key signs of depression that can be easily missed?

Many symptoms can accompany the illness, but there are two key signs–a depressed mood and a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. At lease one of those symptoms must be present over a two-week period to make a diagnosis of clinical depression. It’s easy to rationalize those signs. We say the person is in a bad mood and will eventually snap out of it. We say he’s just gotten lazy. We say he has an attitude problem. Or we say he’s simply a negative person. We say a lot of things like that about people with depression. They are easily said, and they are wrong. People with depression have a disease. If they get treatment they usually get better.

Why do you think depression among black men is a somewhat taboo topic?

This a very taboo topic for men in general–and for black men in particular–because we think of depression as a “woman’s thing.” We’re conditioned to see a man showing signs of depression as less manly. Black men are super sensitive about this. From the time we’re young boys, we’re told we have to “be a man.” Then we spend the rest of our lives coping with society’s attempts to deny or diminish our manhood. We can’t even show emotions, much less talk about how we suffer from emotional problems.

Do you think there’s a link between African American men’s depression and the history of slavery?

I have no doubt that depression in African American men can be linked to slavery and all the other facets of racial oppression that have operated in this country since Africans first arrived on American soil. Study after study has shown that trauma can lead to depression. Slavery put African Americans through the most traumatic experiences imaginable. Effects of that trauma were handed down from generation to generation. The ultimate goal of racism is to control the way black people feel about themselves, to make us embrace a negative self-image. From the days of slavery, black men have been the primary targets. We have to understand that depression can result from this psychological warfare, but we also must know that there are weapons available to help us fight this war and win.

Is this a book for men alone–or will women benefit from reading about this topic, too?

I believe women will be the primary audience for this book in the beginning because they are the ones who want to help men with depression. They’ll find how to do that when they read this book. They’ll see how black men who suffer from depression can get better and begin to heal the damage the disease does to them, their families and the other people they love. Once women read the book and understand what the men they care about are up against, they’ll pass the book along to those men. I hope men will read the book and begin talking about depression. If at some point in the future I walk into a barbershop and the guys are discussing depression, it will be great.

If a reader recognizes his own problems in your book, what can they do? Will your book help them?

Anyone who recognizes his own problems in my book should realize what it took me more decades to understand–that the problems are not his fault and that he can’t solve them alone. He has to get help. He may begin to get help by simply talking with someone–anyone–about his problems. This begins the journey toward healing. My book provides guideposts for that journey, including information about the kinds of treatments that are available, organizations that provide help and sources for more information on depression.

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