Darrell Hudson, MD, MPH
Darrell Hudson, who researches how social determinants like racism affect multiple health outcomes, wants to put himself out of business.
There is a paradox at the heart of Darrell Hudson’s research: Despite lower average socioeconomic status, greater exposure to stress and more challenging contexts due to deeply entrenched racial segregation, data show that African Americans have lower rates of depression than white Americans. Hudson, associate professor at the Brown School, is trying to uncover why.
Using a social epidemiologic lens — a subfield of public health that focuses on the impact of social-structural factors on health — he makes use of focus groups, surveys, interviews and statistical analyses to investigate this issue and other related problems, such as how stress affects immune system functioning and the potential mental health costs of upward social mobility.
One of Hudson’s priorities is to help the public see that there shouldn’t be a divide between mental and physical health. “Associations exist between mental health and cardiovascular disease, mental health and diabetes, as well as with a number of chronic conditions, such as arthritis and lupus and other autoimmune diseases.”
Yet mental health conditions often go undiagnosed. And even though underdiagnosis affects patients across race, it is markedly more prevalent for Black Americans.
In a 2013 study, Hudson found that diabetes patients who are racial/ethnic minorities are less likely to be clinically recognized for depression than their white counterparts.
Therefore, instead of an encouraging finding, the data pointing to lower rates of depression among African Americans might reveal clinical biases or symptoms manifesting differently across culture.
Another aspect of health inequity that Hudson studies is how upward social mobility affects the physical and mental health of people of color. Upwardly mobile people of color, he explains, are often integration pioneers in overwhelmingly white spaces, which exposes them to greater levels of interpersonal racial discrimination.