Black & White: Death & Dying by Race & Ethnicity

Is health black and white?

Before you answer… Did you know that there are differences in death rates based on race? On average, at birth a white person may expect to live 5 years longer than a black person in the United States. This gap grows to a 10 year difference when comparing life expectancy of white women (81 years) to black men (71 years) [1, 2].

Why is this the case?

Well for starters, the leading causes of death differ down both race/ethnicity and gender lines. For instance, homicide makes the list as one of the top five killers of black men, but does not make the list for white men (nor either group of women). Diabetes makes the list as one of the top five killers of black women, but does not make the list for white women (nor either group of men) [3]. However, when comparing death rates between blacks and whites for the same disease, blacks still tend to have worse health outcomes. In fact, according to 2012 data, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Heath states “the death rate for African Americans was generally higher than Whites for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide” [4].

But really, why is this the case?

It comes down to what researchers refer to as ‘social determinants of health’. This term translates into how where you live, work, and play shapes your health. Moreover, these differences may in part be explained by health inequity, “difference or disparity in health outcomes that is systematic, avoidable, and unjust” [5]. For instance, it is common knowledge that many black people in America are living in poverty. This fact is tied to societal oppression dating back to slavery. Poverty manifests in predominately black neighborhoods, leading to limited access to resources such as healthy food, safe environments for physical activity, and quality health care services. As declared by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” BUT, poverty does not explain it all. Even when a 2015 study compared breast cancer survival rates between low socioeconomic status white women with high socioeconomic status black women, black women still suffered from worse health outcomes [6]. Thus, factors beyond poverty, such as racial discrimination (e.g. subconscious differences in treatment by health care professionals) must be considered.

What can be done?

First and foremost, health education and health inequity awareness must become common knowledge. Children and adults, men and women, black and white must all understand what constitutes health, so that health is not only seen as the physical absence of a pathogen, but more holistic and inclusive of mental, emotional, environmental, and social health. Professionals and patients must work together to actively address gaps in sociocultural competence/humility through being open and honest with each other. Particularly, physicians have a responsibility to treat “humanity as [their] patients” [7]. Thus, systematic discrimination must be deconstructed for the assurance of ‘justice for all’. While health policy should be at the forefront of the conversation to combat these issues of social justice, communities must also consider their power in determining their destiny. Black communities, as they have done in the past, must begin to gather, organize, and mobilize to persevere.

Now, with all of this in mind… you tell me, how long should health continue to be black and white?

Rhoda Moise is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a B.S. in Biobehavioral Health and a passion for health promotion. She has been trained to approach health from an interdisciplinary perspective from proteins to people. Through her doctoral studies as a PhD student at The University of Miami, she intends to combat health disparities by conducting research which provides empirical evidence that demands alteration in standing policy.

References

1 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality_tables.htm

2 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/LEWK3_2009.pdf

3 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality_tables.htm#lcod

4 http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=3&lvlid=61

5 http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/socialdeterminants/definitions.html

6 Keegan, T. H., Kurian, A. W., Gali, K., Tao, L., Lichtensztajn, D. Y., Hershman, D. L., … & Gomez, S. L. (2015). Racial/ethnic and socioeconomic differences in short-term breast cancer survival among women in an integrated health system. American journal of public health, 105(5), 938-946.

7 http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/declaration-professional-responsibility.page

Black & White: Death & Dying by Race & Ethnicity

Health Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

By: Delphine Gervais, LCSW

This May will mark five years since my mom was “officially” diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and two years since she transitioned.  There were plenty of days that I replayed the rush to the hospital, the exposure of her upper body to the doctors, the shock at what I saw. I remember the doctor questioning my mother, “When did you feel the first lump?”  I remember hearing my mother respond, “four years ago”. (hence my reference to the word “official”).  My mother was a resourceful Haitian woman, who never missed a doctor’s appointment and who never missed out on an opportunity to eat healthy.  Olive oil was a staple in our home.  Processed food was not.  She did everything she knew how to live a fit life.  In her mind, that lump negated every effort,  and it was then that her life completely changed.

For the purpose of conversation, I opt to turn my lense to black women and what their attitudes towards receiving services imply for their ultimate well being.  The stats are not favorable for communities of color.  Heart disease, cancer, hypertension, mental health–people of color lag behind in prevention and are dying at faster rates for lack of both prevention and intervention services.  In the case of breast cancer, although screenings among black women tend to be on level with those of their white counterparts, follow-ups for negative results were much lower.  Death rates among black women are 42% higher than their white counterparts.  It is one thing to schedule and conduct one’s mammogram every year.  Everyone can do that.  It’s another thing to follow up after receiving some not so favorable results.

I didn’t believe my mother loved me and my brother less because she didn’t seek the help she needed.  It couldn’t have been an easy pill to swallow to suffer in silence. Help seeking behaviors among African-American and Afro-Caribbean women have historically been a point of concern among those in the health profession.  The cultural construct surrounding help seeking behavior for physical or mental health concerns boils down to “it’s nobody’s business but mine.” If you couple that with the religious and spiritual impact on decision-making and you likely have a woman who will keep secrets from her loved ones and bear the entire emotional burden of disease.  To say that women of color reject the notion of prevention or intervention services is a fallacy.  It is best to first understand that normalizing health seeking behavior is the first order of business.

Imagine walking into a space where medical jargon is thrown at you left and right.  Machines are beeping.  People hurry about their work day, some stay long enough to inquire as to your well-being, while others just come long enough to poke and prod and leave with nary a word.  A person who speaks the king’s English would have a hard time navigating the health system.  A person who speaks limited or no English would drown in fear and embarrassment.  There is also the matter of inequitable access to services in the communities of color.  Are clinics within walking distance or near a bus stop? Do those who provide services understand the complexities of a person of color coming to their spaces in search for help?  Are they immediately placed at ease?  Are there people present in these spaces who can walk among the emotional minefields of their patient’s mind?

I remembered offering to take my mother to a cancer support group comprised of Haitian women.  The social worker in me thought it would be best for her to be among others who were grappling with similar issues.  She gave me a blank stare and a firm “No”.  I never brought it up again.  At times, we professionals believe we know what’s best for those who need help.   Imposing our norms and expectations lessens the opportunity for the person to establish personal ownership of their circumstances.  They’ve heard about the church member who became ill, went to the hospital and never came back home.  Walking into foreign spaces and experiencing a new normal is difficult for the average human being.  Being a woman of color compounds those feelings of helplessness.  When the strong black woman mystique had been challenged and the figurative “S” was off her chest, my mother didn’t want a support group.  Attendance at weekly church services was support enough.

There cannot be a one size fits all approach to healthcare.  My mother’s doctor knew well enough not to say the big “C” word in sessions.  She was delicate and respectful in her approach, she maintained deference in her tone and she left the hard discussions during one-on-ones with me.  At times she would practice her Creole on my mom.  This would make my mom smile.  The feeble attempts at seeking commonality met with ultimate respect.  For my mom that was enough to keep her committed to returning every month.  Even when the blood work started coming back with less than positive news, she kept her appointments without fail. Being seen by doctors and nurses who knew her name and smiled with their eyes made the trips that much bearable.  Half the battle is won when communities of color are provided with opportunities to maintain their personal dignity while seeking the help they so very much deserve and need.

This is not a mandate to learn a new language or join Doctors Without Borders.  It is however a call to action for professionals in the healing arts to take stock of how they approach their patients of color.  What works for Jane Doe may not work for Marie Pierre and Mary Johnson.  Cultural norms play a big part in how they each approach seeking help.  Knowing Jane’s cultural constructs and not Marie/Mary’s should cause one to pause and assess their effectiveness in providing service.  As the Haitian daughter of a Haitian woman I thought I knew all there was to making sure my mom received the services she needed.  My westernized approach to therapeutic intervention failed miserably.  I should have known that my mother cared less about support groups than ensuring she had a nurse aid to provide meals.  She cared less about the blood work coming back negative and more about when the bus would come to take her to her prayer service.  It didn’t take me long to stop hitting my head against the proverbial wall.  It was less of what I wanted and more about what she needed.  Once I made peace with that, it was smooth sailing.

Delphine is a licensed clinical social worker with experience in education, health, social welfare, community development, and individual/family/group intervention services. Her professional background emphasizes a special focus on community involvement and service; utilizing social networking for the purpose of bridging the gap between those with established needs and those with access to the resources to meet those needs. Read more on her blog.

Source:  American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/

 

Health Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

IS IT REALLY SUCCESS?

Is It Really Success?

Having traveled for many years to various parts of the world I have gained a much broader perspective as to what success, in life, really is. I am blessed with a number of extremely poor friends and partners, however, many of them have relationships to be envied because of the obvious value and depth of love and kindness contained therein. I am also blessed with extremely wealthy and famous friends who have no relationships of value per se. I have even had friends who have reached the pinnacle of their given fields, only to be removed from this life prematurely because of poor health conditions.

I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT TRUE SUCCESS IS MORE HOLISTIC THAN FAME OR MATERIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT!

  • SPIRITUAL SUCCESS
    Where there is a design, there is always a designer. It is clear that the Creator designed each one of us differently, and on purpose. I believe that our differences are what give us the capacity to fulfill distinctive design. When our lives are spent accomplishing the intent of our designer, I would call that a success.
  • RELATIONAL SUCCESS
    To gain the world, then to have no one to share it with is futile. True success is not to be gained despite family and friends. In fact, I believe that it is family and friends that help us to maintain personal balance and keep us grounded as we rise.
  • PHYSICAL SUCCESS
    What good is money, if one is too sick or feeble to enjoy it. Solid healthy choices should accompany any ambition to accomplish good or gain in life.
  • MATERIAL SUCCESS
    It is impossible to help the poor, if you are one of them. While I do believe in material success, the greatest joy in life comes from giving to others, knowing that they can do nothing for us in return.

IN ALL OF YOUR SEEKING – PURSUE HOLISTIC SUCCESS

Dr. Mark T. Jones Sr.
Sincerely Seeking

IS IT REALLY SUCCESS?