Dr. Eve M. Hall

Milwaukee Urban League hosted a virtual roundtable Wednesday afternoon to discuss stress and various health disparities affecting Black women through various avenues.

Straight Talk on Women’s Health, moderated by President and CEO of Milwaukee Urban League Dr. Eve M. Hall, dived into the factors affecting Black women and how they contribute to prevalent health issues in the community.

One of the major culprits is systemic oppression, explained Gina Green-Harris, director of UW School of Medicine and Public Health for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships. This can present itself in many forms, from housing problems to inaccessible quality healthcare to even lack of community grocery stores, Green-Haris said.

“We know that chronic stress is a driver but when you think about how chronic stress impacts us, where it comes from – it comes from systems.” Green-Harris said. “It comes from systemic oppression. It comes from our systems that have been in place for several years that have denied us healthcare or inadequate healthcare.”

Stressors build on top of one another and can factor into major issues regarding birth complications, explained Green-Harris.

Green-Harris outlined how pre-mature births are three times more likely in Black women and Hall explained Black infant death rates are three times worse compared to the rate for white infants. Systemic issues play their role variously in Black women’s health.

“We look at high levels of stress in Black women. Being Black can be stressful…And then there are some genetic pieces that impact us because If you are constantly under stress it does impact you genetically and that too contributes to birth outcomes,” said Green-Harris. “If we’re going to talk about how we address the birth outcome numbers we’re going to have to talk about the social constructs of racism.”

Jasmine M. Johnson of the 2021 Go Red for Women Chair Diversity Programs, discussed how stress and the intertwinements of social determinants of health can affect women.

For African American women, ages 20 and older, 49% have heart disease, yet only one in five African American women believe they are at risk, Johnson outlined. Heart disease is also more prevalent among Black woman than white woman.

“When I look at women and the risk factors for a heart attack,” said Johnson. “I look at how stress kills.”

Johnson gave a personal example of being presented with the struggles of stressors. She explained how she has had to juggle working from home with her teenage son asking heavy questions regarding the George Floyd incident.

“I had 10 minutes to regather myself from finding answers to the questions that he was asking that I really didn’t have before I had to put back on that face and log into my next meeting in a corporate environment where I struggle to find another person that looks like me,” said Johnson. “After fielding calls for eight weeks straight every single day with a positive diagnosis of someone in my extended family in ultimately resulting in over a dozen deaths… All of those stressors combined to all the other additional things, contribute to that.”

Other heart problem risk factors, Johnson discussed, include high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.

Disparities in medical treatment and research were discussed by panelist Mirtha Sosa Pacheco, program manager UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Pacheco is part of “All of Us,” a National Institute of Health federal study dedicated to individualizing healthcare.

A lot of factors go into understanding one person’s health, explained Pacheco, including air pollution, zip code, occupation and stress.

“Disease treatment and prevention right now sort of takes an ‘one size fits all’ approach and we know because of lifestyle, economics, social environment and biology, that we all are different,” said Pacheco. “It makes more sense that we can have the best care based on us uniquely.”

“All of Us” is conducted through participants submitting information like health records, personal measurements and even social factors in order to learn and tweak treatments for all conditions. They hope to reach one million participants.

They are urging people of color to participate but understand hesitance given historic and current issues with federal government.

“The program is understanding and owning that research has not been inclusive in the past,” said Pacheco. “They want to be transparent and invite this time, fully openly, fully respectfully, trying to be ethical about the research so that we are represented for new treatments this time around.”

The roundtable also featured a presentation from Vivian L. King, a former television journalist, now author, who survived a stroke caused by birth control.

She hopes her book, “When the Words Suddenly Stopped,” brings awareness to her experience and starts a dialogue about the lack of research regarding birth control’s impact on Black women.

“That’s why I really wanted to start this book,” said King. “To really start that dialogue.”

The panel dedicated time to address the importance of self-care before concluding, as self-care can relieve some stressors. Panelists shared advice ranging from balancing work and home life to focusing on your goals, not the “busy work.”

“I must emphasize to women and women of color, that self-care is more imperative today than ever before,” said Johnson. “Whatever that one thing is for you every single day, for me it’s finding fifteen minutes listening to a few of my favorite tunes or finding a podcast I have been trying to get to. I’ve committed to finding one thing to do for me every single day.”

“I think it’s really important for me to always know my purpose,” said Green-Harris. “Sometimes we get busy work. We get so caught up in the midst of being busy and we have no real reason to know why we’re busy. What is this ‘I’m busy’ stuff? If we get caught in that tango, we allow people to actually dictate what we are doing and then we lose the capacity to actually rest.”

“You need to set some barriers,” said King. “You need to make sure that you are not caught up in all those things that can cause stress.”