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Hopelessness affects older whites more than blacks, study finds

May 7, 2016

A new study from the University of Michigan finds white men are comparatively worse at dealing with depression symptoms than their black counterparts. 

The study compared depression symptoms of white Americans and African-Americans over 65 years old. While black depression is underreported, whites struggle most with hopelessness. 

"The main component of depression which results in suicides is not depression itself; it's hopelessness," said Shervin Assari, lead author on the study. "If we are depressed, that means we are thinking negatively about ourselves, people around us, and our future." 

The study found each symptom of depression led to 27% more hopelessness for whites. 

White suicide rates have been known to be high for a while, particularly among white men, but Assari said there's evidence of a reciprocal relationship between hopelessness and depression that whites have a harder time breaking. 

Assari said there are many studies exploring why whites do worse with depression. What it boils down to is whites have less experience with stress and hardship. 

Racial minorities are almost guaranteed to face oppression in America, Assari said, and that experience helps them learn to cope. Between black and white people, African-Americans tend to have better social support and networks built up over the years. They also tend to be more religious than whites, Assari said, and generally have more resources to deal with stress.

Assari described a recent conversation with a black colleague:

"She was saying: for blacks, a new stress is nothing new because they have been exposed to that level of stress from their childhood," he said.

The study notes recent data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention showing white males make up seven out of 10 suicides in the U.S.