The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Karen Tabb Dina highlights disparities in multiracial pregnancy research

On Tuesday Feb. 12, Karen Tabb Dina, associate professor of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke about disparities in pregnancy and birth outcomes among multiracial population groups at two events on campus, eliciting high turn-out and audience engagement from Grinnell students and professors alike. Both her 4 p.m. talk at Faulconer Gallery and her 7:30 p.m. presentation in JRC 101 were organized by the Center for the Humanities.

Tabb Dina is the principal investigator of the Identifying Depression through Early Assessment (IDEA) Research Team as a part of University of Illinois’ School of Social Work. She and her team aim to improve maternal health through the early identification of risk factors during the perinatal period, the pregnancy and the postpartum period. This work includes hands-on data collection, analysis, published reports and health provider education. Tabb Dina also studies multiracial adults and children. The intersection between these two subjects formed the basis of her Center for the Humanities presentation.

“This group, even though it’s growing, isn’t included in research,” said Tabb Dina in reference to multiracial people. Researchers often recode respondents who report themselves as mixed race into the least-status group indicated, preventing accurate analysis of multiracial individuals. This practice is especially dangerous in light of IDEA’s research that Tabb Dina presented, showing adverse birth outcomes and mental health status among self-reported multiracial women as compared to those who reported themselves as of a single race, whether majority or minority. 

“Stop deleting them and start counting them,” she said. 

Tabb Dina spoke about the link between multiracial identity and higher rates of substance abuse, asthma, depression, lower self-rated health and perinatal depression when compared to monoracial, minority or majority groups. 

Tabb Dina has been working in the health services field since 2006, studying population health and looking at patterns and discrepancies between racial and ethnic groups. Thursday evening’s talk, as well as Tabb Dina’s current research, focused on perinatal depression. 

This topic, despite a recent increase in media coverage due to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Serena Williams coming forward to speak of their experience with depression during and after pregnancy, is still broadly unaddressed in the United States, where maternal mortality rates are extremely elevated compared to the rest of the developed world.

“We have to do something because the stakes are so high,” Tabb Dina said in an exchange with a physician about how to counsel or diagnose patients suffering from perinatal depression. She suggested medication when counselling is not possible, such as in states like Iowa, where mental health resources are few and far between.

Throughout her work with IDEA, Tabb Dina has prioritized advocating for perinatal women and mothers not only through the team’s research output but also through their research process. Tabb Dina has been in the health services sphere for a decade. She noticed that in all of the research group with which she worked there were no patients helping to design or conduct research. 

Now, thanks to a grant from the Obamacare-funded Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), IDEA has formed a patient advisory board, where women who have experienced perinatal depression can have input on how the team conducts their research and what practices they recommend to providers: How do real women respond to a screen? What do they do with the instructions doctors give? These patients also join the IDEA research team, interviewing other patients in English, Chinese, Spanish and French. 

“Our research has become messier with patient voice, but it’s rich,” Tabb Dina said. 

Tabb Dina’s work with IDEA is very specific to her field, but she is extremely adept at translating this work for practitioners, students interested in topics like policy, gender and race, as well as students with questions about their own racial identification, said Professor Vance Byrd, German, interim director of the Center for the Humanities. The Center for the Humanities aims to foster such interdisciplinary inquiry through their speakers, who often lead workshops for students and community members as well as give talks.

The many points of identification students had with her research was evident throughout the events. Tabb Dina categorized the questions she received from Grinnell students throughout her day of presentations as “the hard ones.” Students lined up after her presentation to speak with Tabb Dina on topics ranging from how to measure the prevalence of perinatal depression to the role of critical race theory in hospitals. To several students asking questions about perinatal depression extending from her research findings, Tabb Dina responded “that’s your paper … you’re next!”

Byrd emphasized Tabb Dina’s “simple but complicated” message in light of her findings on perinatal depression and adverse health self-reporting among multiracial youth — if you’re not feeling well, you should check in.  The perinatal depression “warm-line” can be reached at 1-800-944-4773.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *