Sources of Stress and Relief for African American Women

By Catherine Fisher Collins | Go to book overview

and common colds/influenza, will be discussed, as well as depression and its ultimate expression, suicide.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that there are 3 million African Americans who suffer from diabetes mellitus. More specifically, among African American women, diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death. Diabetes is characterized by the pancreas' inability to produce enough insulin to regulate the amount of sugar ingested. Diabetes is so prevalent among African American women that causal factors are important to their very survival.

Obesity appears to be one of the precipitating factors in the development of Type II diabetes. Obesity in African American women is a critical issue because obesity is not only twice as prevalent among black women as it is among white women but also a precursor of hypertension as well as diabetes.

With a sedentary lifestyle that lacks an established exercise program and with diets laced with high fat and low in fiber [60 percent of our sisters become obese by middle age when we should be cautiously addressing all of our inappropriate health care habits] (Johnson 1996, p. 10). For example, Walcott-McQuigg (1995) studied middle-aged women's psychosocial weight-control behavior. Both Johnson and Walcott-McQuigg found from their analysis of responses to the Global Stress Scale that women who were overweight were experiencing more stress than those who were not overweight, and 50 percent of the women thought stress brought on their weight gain. Therefore, when overweight African American women experience some form of stress, the body responds in various ways. What is important for us to recognize is that stress can trigger certain bodily responses that create and exacerbate adverse health conditions.

For example, a 1963 study by Slawson, Flynn, and Kollar found that when twenty-five newly diagnosed diabetics took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the subjects had experienced some type of stress prior to the onset of the disease. Half of the study's subjects had experienced the death of a loved one and bereavement or some other loss/separation, and one-quarter had experienced some minor loss. Another study found that within a year of the onset of diabetes, 74 percent of the subjects reported that stressful events had occurred at work or at home (Kisch 1985).

Turning our attention to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), it is estimated that each year 40 million sexually transmitted viral infections will affect the American population, among them 30 million cases of herpes. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV2) is a highly infectious virus that appears in the genital areas as lesions. These lesions reappear in response to psychological stress, according to numerous studies (Bonneau, 1994; Learum et al., 1991; Longo and Clum, 1989; Schmidt, 1985; Stout and

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