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NIMHD Investigator Forums on the Impact of COVID-19 on Research Communities

Jennifer Alvidrez, Ph.D.
Rick Berzon, Dr.P.H., P.A.
Dorothy Castille, Ph.D.
Nancy L. Jones, Ph.D., M.A.
CDR Nadra Tyus, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.
Division of Scientific Programs

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has strained daily life for people living in the United States, affecting nearly every sector including biomedical research. The disruption has also disproportionally affected the lives and livelihoods of populations that experience health disparities, which are also the populations that NIMHD’s research addresses.

To provide an opportunity to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on researchers and research funded by the institute, NIMHD hosted four COVID-19 NIMHD Investigator Forums this summer. NIMHD staff who hosted the events were Drs. Jennifer Alvidrez, Rick Berzon, Dorothy Castille, Nancy Jones and Nadra Tyus.  We knew that the COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges for our research community and learned of the creative strategies they developed to navigate these challenges using their extensive connections with health disparity communities.  We structured the forum to hear directly from NIMHD Principal Investigators (PIs) about their observations and thoughts in three areas:

1) Impact of COVID-19 on the communities where research is conducted
2) Strategies to modify recruitment, data collection, and/or intervention protocols
3) Understanding and addressing the impact of the pandemic on study outcomes. Continue reading “NIMHD Investigator Forums on the Impact of COVID-19 on Research Communities”

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National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series

July Is the Best Month to Start a
New Year of Working on Mental Health

Harold W. Neighbors, Ph.D.
Division of Intramural Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Dr. Harold W. Neighbors

Dr. Harold W. Neighbors

When I started graduate school in the mid-1970s, I had just one seemingly simple research question. I wanted to know: “Who had the higher rate of mental illness, Black or White Americans?” I remember the puzzled looks from fellow students, as most of them already knew the answer – “Blacks of course!” Their reasoning made good sense – life was harder for Blacks in the United States, and a life spent fighting against racial discrimination can lead to emotional damage.

So, I began my investigation, uncovering layer after layer of complexity surrounding what I thought was a simple question. My motivations were both professional and personal. Personally, like many families, Black and White, mine had revealed a few semi-private stories about “bad nerves” (the preferred language of emotional distress used to describe mental health problems) that were offered for consumption in the smallest of morsels. And even though my curiosity was never quite satisfied, I instinctively knew not to push for too many details. Professionally, there was my first “big” assignment as a graduate research assistant on a new, innovative study, the “National Survey of Black Americans”1. I wrote my dissertation on one aspect of the subject: help-seeking behavior for mental health problems, using data from the National Survey of Black Americans. My dissertation research told me that Black Americans need to stop, look, listen, and most importantly, tell the truth about our feelings. The key to sound mental health is what people of color decide to do about profound sadness, feelings of helplessness resulting from attacks on our self-esteem, and hopelessness due to unjust institutional impediments that erode aspirations for achieving one’s best life2. My investigation revealed that when feelings become unbearably painful, they are symptoms. Once you are symptomatic, you need to get help. It is just that simple; and difficult; and complicated. Continue reading “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series”

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National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series

American Indian/Alaska Native Mental Health: Our Voices, Traditions and Values to Strengthen our Collective Wellness

Victoria M. O’Keefe, Ph.D. (Cherokee/Seminole Nations of Oklahoma)
Mathuram Santosham Endowed Chair in Native American Health, Assistant Professor, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Associate Director, Center for American Indian Health
Department of International Health, Social & Behavioral Interventions
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Dr. Victoria M. O’Keefe

Dr. Victoria M. O’Keefe

 

My late grandma, Virginia Feather Revas, was a Cherokee Nation citizen, a fluent speaker of ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ (Cherokee language), and a Community Health Representative (CHR) for our tribe. CHRs are embedded within their tribe and serve important roles in health promotion for their communities.1 My grandmother served our tribe proudly and instilled in me the importance of working on behalf of our people. My favorite memories with her, from visits to Oklahoma, were going to our family’s creek to catch ᏥᏍᏛᎾ (crawfish) for dinner, attending stomp dances and pow wows, and admiring her talent for beadwork and quilt making. These memories are important teachings that I value now more than ever.

Continue reading “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series”

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National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series

Centering Structural Inequities in Conversations on Mental Health Among People of Color

Margarita Alegría, Ph.D.
Chief, Disparities Research Unit, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mongan Institute
Professor, Departments of Medicine & Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Margarita Alegría

Dr. Margarita Alegría

There has been tremendous attention brought to mental health as part of the coronavirus pandemic. The good news is that there is now almost universal recognition that when our mental health is precarious, costs are immeasurable. What has become more apparent is how this cost is much higher for people of color. But why is their burden of mental illness so much greater? What can help shed light on how mental illness impacts racial and ethnic minorities so adversely and profoundly, even when they have lower or similar prevalence rates of mental health disorders when compared to White people1? Continue reading “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series”

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Can Paid Maternity Leave Help Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality?

By Rada Dagher, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Program Director
Division of Scientific Programs
Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Dr. Rada Dagher

Dr. Rada Dagher

Maternal mortality rates in the United States have reached an all-time high. While these rates have dropped globally in the last few decades1, in the United States, they have more than doubled between 1987 and 20152. The picture is even grimmer for racial and ethnic minority communities, where African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women have the highest maternal mortality rates of all racial/ethnic groups2.

While most of the discussions about the maternal mortality crisis focus on the physical causes of death, the relationship between maternal mental health and mortality rates is largely ignored. For example, postpartum depression leads the list of mental health conditions affecting new mothers, and women experiencing this disorder may have suicidal thoughts and thoughts of harming the baby3. The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic that is causing COVID-19 disease outbreaks is another factor to consider. Due to social distancing, women have much lower access to the usual support systems (e.g. family, doulas) that promote their mental health during the vulnerable period of transitioning into motherhood. Recently published data from China on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests increased rates of postpartum depression4 among Chinese women. Moreover, a recent report from a convenience sample of U.S. mothers of children of ages 0-18 months, shows elevated depression (34.1%) and anxiety (34.6%) rates5. Yet, the currently proposed interventions to address maternal mortality do not consider approaches to prevent and/or treat postpartum depression. One such approach is providing paid leave for new mothers. Continue reading “Can Paid Maternity Leave Help Address Disparities in Maternal Mortality?”

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Spotlight on COVID-19 and Health Disparities: Opportunities to Achieve Better Understanding and Equality for Vulnerable Populations

By Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Photo of NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Perez-Stable

The year 2020 will be remembered in history as one that changed the way we live as a result of a new global pandemic and the unequal effects on specific communities. The novel SARS-Cov-2 virus that has caused the COVID-19 global pandemic, has caused a societal awakening to the issues of existing health disparities and inequities in health care. The data we have for race and ethnicity present a stark reality: African American, Latino, American Indian and Pacific Islander populations are bearing a disproportionate burden of the disease.

As the NIMHD Director, I have had multiple opportunities to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on disparity and other vulnerable populations and share my thoughts on what the biomedical community can do and is doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog post, I will highlight two recent examples of these opportunities to place a spotlight on mitigating the COVID-19 burden on minority health and health disparities. Continue reading “Spotlight on COVID-19 and Health Disparities: Opportunities to Achieve Better Understanding and Equality for Vulnerable Populations”

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The Way Forward for Sleep Health Disparities Research

By Nancy Jones, Ph.D., M.A.
Scientific Program Officer, Community Health and Population Sciences
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Dr. Nancy Jones

Dr. Nancy Jones

Populations that experience health disparities also experience sleep deficiencies, such as insufficient or long sleep duration, poor sleep quality, and irregular timing of sleep. These sleep experiences are associated with a wide range of suboptimal health outcomes, high risk health behaviors, and poorer overall functioning and wellbeing. In 2018, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, along with our NIH colleagues at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research convened a workshop with experts in sleep, circadian rhythms and health disparities to stimulate research that would address two questions, 1) what are the underlying health disparity causal pathways contributing to sleep health disparities (SHDs) and 2) could SHDs, at least in part, explain disparities in other health outcomes for these populations?

The Workshop Report1 published in the Sleep journal is the distillation of hundreds of ideas into five areas and nine strategies. Continue reading “The Way Forward for Sleep Health Disparities Research”

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The Future of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Blog Series

Yukiko Asada, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine
Dalhousie University
Nova Scotia, Canada

 

A Lesson from Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Health Disparities Wonderland  

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland1)

Photo of Dr. Yukiko Asada

Dr. Yukiko Asada

Expressing truth about life, this conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat is beloved and used in many contexts. Its profound power as a metaphor can also be applied to the science of measurement of health disparities. In Health Disparities Wonderland, Alice might ask, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here to put an end to health disparities?” “That depends a good deal on what you mean by health disparities and how you measure and understand them,” would reply the Cat.

In “Harmonizing health disparities measurement” in the special issue of American Journal of Public Health,2 we argued for the science of measurement of health disparities. We believed by now few health disparities researchers and policy-makers would actually answer as Alice would, “I don’t much care about measurement.” But it is not enough for each of us to care. In the article, we urged all of us in the field of health disparities to engage in a community-wide consensus building for harmonization in measurement practice. Continue reading “The Future of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Blog Series”

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Guest Blog Post: Talent in Biomedical Research Is Universal; Opportunity Is Not

NIDDK programs provide opportunity for underrepresented groups to blaze a scientific path

This is part of a NIMHD Insights blog series featuring NIH Institute and Center Directors who are highlighting their institutes’ initiatives, training, resources and funding opportunities relevant to minority health and health disparities research. The series links NIMHD stakeholders to relevant information and opportunities across NIH.

This post is from the director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NIDDK conducts and supports medical research and research training to disseminate science-based information on diabetes and other endocrine and metabolic diseases; digestive diseases, nutritional disorders, and obesity; and kidney, urologic, and hematologic diseases, to improve people’s health and quality of life. 

By Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers

Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers

Recently, we received a thank you note from a student who participated in a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) program that provides research training to high school and college students from underrepresented groups. A year ago, the student wrote, she had no idea what scientists did, and now she teaches laboratory procedures to other students. She was also selected to present her work at the 2019 American Society for Nephrology’s Kidney Week.

This aspiring scientist, a first-generation college student, took part in NIDDK’s Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP), and stories like hers support our Institute’s efforts to build a strong pipeline of talented, diverse biomedical researchers. Continue reading “Guest Blog Post: Talent in Biomedical Research Is Universal; Opportunity Is Not”

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Rural Health is a Global Issue

By Priscah Mujuru, DrPH, MPH, RN, COHN-S
Scientific Program Officer, Community Health and Population Sciences
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

Dr. Priscah Mujuru

Dr. Priscah Mujuru

Rural health to me, is a lived experience. I was born in the rural areas of Zimbabwe. In my village, when a pregnant woman couldn’t make it to the hospital, there were no gloves, clean working stations, or sanitized rooms to ensure safe childbirth. A female in labor would be aided in her delivery by other village women who used what they had: hot water, rags, old razors, and even twine made of tree bark to help with the delivery. We never thought we were poor, and in fact we were proud and happy of who we were.

I was fortunate that my father valued education and sent all his children, 6 girls and 4 boys, to primary and secondary schools. He felt that it did not matter if you were a boy or girl, man or woman, everyone should be given an opportunity to get an education. In a small village, to send so many children to school when there was work to be done, was very rare. Continue reading “Rural Health is a Global Issue”

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