APA Working Group Reports on Stress and Health Disparities

An APA working group formed in 2013 to explore stress and health disparities presented its first findings Friday at the APA convention in Toronto, focusing on depression, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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Not surprisingly, these problems occur disproportionately among African-Americans, people of low socioeconomic status and sexual minorities. Research has found that health behaviors are critical contributors to these disparities, the researchers said. For instance, African-Americans may be more likely to succumb to heart disease because they have less access to health care services or fewer opportunities to eat healthy. There are psychological contributions as well, specifically stress.

During the symposium, Elizabeth Bronodolo, PhD, a professor at St. John’s University in New York City, discussed the importance of understanding the various levels of stress to which people from  vulnerable groups are exposed. In addition she stressed the role of community factors, such as neighborhood violence or a loss of jobs in a community. The working group also looked at how stress contributes to health disparities, including the development of social cognitive schemas that contribute to how one views the world, and thus sets up vicious cycles of stress.

Also in the presentation, Cheryl Woods Giscombe, PhD, described the working group’s recommendations, many of which touched both on individual interventions that take into account the context in which they are delivered, and on population-level interventions.

Health disparities are one of the greatest challenges to the health-care system and to population health at large. APA should be applauded for taking a leadership role in attempting to mitigate this problem.

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