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
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”
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
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”
By Rada Dagher, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Division of Scientific Programs
Clinical and Health Services Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
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?”
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
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”
Yukiko Asada, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine
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)
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”
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
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”
Obesity Post - school lunch v2
Tanya Agurs-Collins, Ph.D., RD
Health Behaviors Research Branch
Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences
National Cancer Institute, NIH
Susan Persky, Ph.D.
Associate Investigator and Head of the Communication, Attitudes, and Behavior Unit
Immersive Virtual Environment Testing Area, Social and Behavioral Research Branch
National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH
Disparities in Obesity Require Multilevel Approaches
Multilevel Approaches Require More Research
Dr. Tanya Agurs-Collins
Dr. Susan Persky
As part of the NIMHD special issue New Perspectives to Advance Minority Health and Health Disparities Research, we and our co-authors focused on designing and assessing multilevel interventions to improve minority health and reduce health disparities.1 Multilevel interventions, based on the socioecological framework2, involve intervening on at least two levels of influence at the same time. We chose this topic because multilevel interventions are an extremely challenging and often expensive undertaking that require myriad decisions and plans, yet it is becoming clear that such interventions are a necessary approach for overcoming great disparities evident in the public’s health, particularly for conditions like obesity. Continue reading “The Future of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research”
By Arline T. Geronimus, Sc.D.
Professor, Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health
Research Professor, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research
University of Michigan
Understanding Health Disparities through the Life Course
Dr. Arline T. Geronimus
My monozygotic twins—now young men—never engaged in parallel play with each other. Parallel play is a type of toddler-to-preschool play where, even though two or more children are in the same room or even the same sandbox, they each remain absorbed in their own personal activity and do not interact. Yet before they could walk or talk, my sons delighted in playing together, cooperating on projects, and putting on musical performances that they would end by bowing in unison, each one’s arm around the other’s waist. They scaled higher heights, literally, than playing alone. We found them lying on the tops of our highest kitchen cabinets, giggling together, when they were 2. Even strapped into their stroller, they enacted perfectly synchronized and complexly coordinated routines we called “stroller surfing,” which were at once wonderful and hair-raising to watch and noticeably enchanting to passersby. Continue reading “The Future of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Blog Series”