Dr. Eleanor Murphy is a psychology research scientist and assistant professor of clinical psychology at the New York Psychiatric Institute. Her current research involves genetics, psychology, mood and anxiety disorders, how the environment affects mental health, and the differences in mental health among racial and ethnic groups, including African Americans. In this article, Dr. Murphy tells us why genetic research must be done specifically for African Americans.
Q: Why is genetics and mental health research important for African Americans?
A: Most of the research that’s done on genetics and mental health disorders has been with White people so African Americans do not have much representation in this type of research. When we get results from a study we often ask ourselves whether the things we find are true for other groups that weren’t in the study—such as African Americans. One of my research goals is to include people of diverse backgrounds (especially in terms of race and ethnicity). Right now I’m doing family studies for this very reason.
We still don’t know a lot about depression for African Americans—that’s why this research is important. When we look at research that has been done in the past, there are almost no family studies of depression that focus on African Americans. Yet research has shown that while African Americans have lower rates of depression, those who do have the illness have it more severely and it lasts longer than for Whites. African Americans also get less treatment and when they do they often don’t do as well as Whites who get treatment.
Q: Can you give an example of how findings from genetic research might differ between races or ethnicities?
A: Say, for example, you find a gene that is associated with bipolar disorder. Recently, some research came out that the genes related to bipolar disorder in Whites were different from the genes related to bipolar disorder in African Americans.
For more Harlem Word articles with Dr. Eleanor Murphy, see the following:
Harlem Word: Dr. Eleanor Murphy talks about her research with African Americans, genetics, and mental health (Part I)
Harlem Word: Dr. Eleanor Murphy talks about her research with African Americans, genetics, and mental health (Part II)