Washington University in St. Louis
Dr. Darrell Hudson is an assistant professor with the Brown School of Social Work and a faculty scholar with the Institute of Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Hudson is at the early stages of a career dedicated to the study and elimination of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in health. Dr. Hudson’s research agenda addresses the role of social determinants of health and his current work is largely concerned with how socioeconomic position and social context affects health across different racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Prior to his faculty appointment, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the Kellogg Health Scholars Program (Multidisciplinary Track) at the University of California, San Francisco/Berkeley site. Dr. Hudson completed his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where he also received his M.P.H. and he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Morehouse College.
African Americans are socially and economically disadvantaged, compared to whites 1,2and numerous studies indicate that African Americans are exposed to greater levels of stress and adversity over the life course than whites. 3,4Exposure to stress is an important factor in the development of mental disorders within the mental health literature.4–8Not surprisingly, African Americans have poorer physical health than whites.9–11Hence, lower rates of observed depression among African Americans compared to whites in national psychiatric epidemiologic studies are seemingly paradoxical.12–14Due to advances in neuroscience, public health researchers have increasingly explored the relationship between physical and mental health.12One potential explanation for lower observed rates of depression among African Americans could be the use of poor health behaviors (e.g. poor diet, overeating, drinking) to provide immediate alleviation from stressors and protect against the development of depression and other mental disorders.13,14Yet, these poor health behaviors may simultaneously increase the risk of obesity and subsequent chronic diseases. African Americans are more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods with fewer resources (e.g. full service grocery stores, safe places to recreate).Thus, it is possible that poor health behavior options may more readily available in predominantly African American neighborhoods.15
New Connections funds will be used to conduct a secondary data analysis project to examine the relationship between social context, stress, mental health and physical health using data drawn from the Missouri Family Study (MOFAM), a longitudinal study of African American and white families from the state of Missouri. The specific aims of this study are to 1) test the relationship between social context, stress and poor health behaviors, particularly overeating; 2) test the relationship between stress and poor mental health; 3) examine whether the relationship between stress and mental health is moderated by poor health behaviors. I will be mentored by Dr. Kathleen Bucholz, Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, a leading expert in psychiatric epidemiology and health administration who studies substance use, problems and disorders, and is principal investigator for MOFAM.
My New Connections Experience
I applied to New Connections for multiple reasons. I will be able to conduct a secondary data analysis project that will accomplish the following aims: 1) To test the relationship between social context, stress and poor health behaviors, particularly overeating; 2) To test the relationship between stress and poor mental health; 3) To examine whether the relationship between stress and mental health is moderated by poor health behaviors. I will be able to collaborate with a senior mentor, Dr. Kathleen Bucholz, and consult with methodological experts for insights necessary to conduct this project. I will also be able to pursue additional methodological training, such as the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research summer workshop, which will be critical in accomplishing the goals of my proposed project.
So far, I have been able to connect with new grantees and meet key RWJF personnel. These connections will likely be valuable throughout my research career.
My program of research centers on the social epidemiology of depression among African Americans, particularly how stress is socially patterned as well as the coping strategies and resources that individuals develop and can access to cope with stress. I am addressing these complex issues with innovation, combining principles of social epidemiology and community-based work. A challenging research question that remains from my previous work is why, despite having poorer physical health than whites, do African Americans have lower rates of depression compared to whites? African Americans are socially and economically disadvantaged, compared to whites and numerous studies indicate that African Americans are exposed to greater levels of stress and adversity over the life course than whites. Hence, lower rates of observed depression among African Americans compared to whites in national psychiatric epidemiologic studies are seemingly paradoxical. I have explored this question through several research projects, including my current New Connections grant.
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
- Award Year: 2014
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Vulnerable Populations
- Project Name: The High Cost of Mental Health: Examining Environmental Affordances and Health Behaviors in the Pathway of Mental and Physical Health.