United States Research

I worked from 2006-2010 with colleagues at the Collaborative Research Unit at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County. Some of our research is provided below.

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Speaking through diabetes: Rethinking the significance of lay discourses on diabetes


The disproportionate prevalence of Type II diabetes mellitus among the poor suggests that, in addition to lifestyle factors, social suffering may be embodied in diabetes. In this article, we examine the role of social distress in narratives collected from 26 Mexican Americans seeking diabetes care at a public hospital in Chicago. By linking social suffering with diabetes causality, we argue that our participants use diabetes much like an "idiom of distress," leveraging somatic symptoms to disclose psychological distress. We argue that diabetes figures both as an expression and a product of social suffering in these narratives. We propose that increasingly prevalent chronic diseases, like diabetes, which are closely associated with social disparities in health, may function as idioms for psychological and social suffering. Such findings inform the anthropological literature and emerging clinical and scientific discourse about the roles of stress and psychological distress in diabetes experiences among underserved groups.

Interpersonal abuse and depression among mexican immigrant women with type 2 diabetes

Evidence for a bi-directional relationship of depression and type 2 diabetes suggests that social distress plays a role in depression among people with diabetes. In this study, we examine the relationship between subjective distress and depression in 121 first- and second-generation Mexican immigrant women seeking diabetes care at a safety-net hospital in Chicago. We used a mixed-methods approach including narrative interview, survey, and finger-stick blood HbA1c data. Using grounded theory analysis, we identified seven life stressors from narrative interviews: interpersonal abuse, stress related to health, family, neighborhood violence, immigration status, and work, and feeling socially detached. Women reported unusually high rates of interpersonal abuse (65%) and disaggregated physical abuse (54%) and sexual abuse (23%). We evaluated depression using CES-D cut-off points of 16 and 24 and assessed rates to be 49 and 34%, respectively. We found that interpersonal abuse was a significant predictor of depression (CESD ≥ 24) in bivariate (OR 3.97; 95% CI 1.58-10.0) and multivariate (OR 5.51; 95% CI 1.85, 16.4) logistic regression analyses. These findings suggest that interpersonal abuse functions as an important contributor to depression among low-income Mexican immigrant women and should be recognized and addressed in diabetes care.

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Susto, coraje, and abuse: depression and beliefs about diabetes

Mexican immigrants in the US often incorporate folk beliefs into diabetes etiologies but little is known about the relationship between such beliefs and depression. This study examines the relationship of diabetes beliefs and depression among 404 first- and second-generation Mexican immigrants seeking diabetes care in safety-net clinics in Chicago and San Francisco. We used multivariate linear regression to compare the association of depression with beliefs that susto (fright), coraje (anger), and/or interpersonal abuse cause diabetes, adjusting for gender, age, income, education, diabetes duration, co-morbidities, language preference, and acculturation. We incorporated the belief that abuse causes diabetes based on previous ethnographic research. Individuals reporting belief that abuse contributes to diabetes were significantly more likely to report symptoms of depression before (β = 1.37; p < 0.05) and after adjustment (β = 2.03; p < 0.001). Believing that susto and/or coraje cause diabetes was not significantly associated with depression before or after adjustment. The significant association between depression and belief that abuse contributes to diabetes onset suggests that belief in a specific form of social distress may be more closely associated with depression among people with diabetes than a folk belief such as susto or coraje.