Major clinical depression is one of the most prevalent diseases in the United States, occurring in about seven percent of the population at any one time. The problems associated with the disease are far reaching -- not just to the suffering individual, but to the interpersonal relationships of the individual, lost work productivity, absenteeism from work and society, and suicide. While there are many theories about what causes the emergence of symptoms, with most researchers agreeing that it's a multi-faceted, complex issue of neurotransmitter dysfunction, coping mechanisms, life circumstances that all come together for the perfect storm.
A recent research study has shown one subset of the population that does not seem as vulnerable to developing clinical depression: African-American women living in rural areas. African-American women living in rural areas were at lower risk of depression and other mood disorders, compared to African-American women in larger cities, researchers report. Non-Hispanic white women were at an increased risk for mental health problems when they lived rurally, compared to white women in urban areas.
Addie Weaver at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the study's lead author, says that they expected to see similar rates of depression in women across the board in rural areas, since those who live in the country typically have less access to healthcare, are more likely to be isolated, have low health literacy, or be impoverished. These underserved subsets of the population are not studied as much in general, which is another problem that Weaver hopes to alleviate.
"I actually thought we might see higher rates of depression among women of both races. It was a concern of mine that we know so little about African Americans living in rural areas and people living in rural areas in general."The researchers used survey data collected between 2001 and 2003 from about 1,800 women in the southern U.S., about 81 percent of whom were African American in a retrospective study. Black women in rural areas had a depression rate of four percent, compared to black women in cities, whose depression rate was more than three times that much -- fourteen percent.
Weaver said that culture and religion may be reasons that black women suffer from less depression in rural areas, but warned that there was still much to learn -- the reasons behind the data at this point are just speculation.
"What was particularly interesting to us is that rural residence seems to emerge as a protective factor for rural African-American women. Of course there is a need of further research exploring this. We're just speculating on some ideas at this point."