Panel Discusses Depression

African-Americans are less likely to develop major depression than White Americans, but those that do are likely to have more severe symptoms, said Harvard School of Public Health professor David R. Williams in a discussion on American and international health disparities this Thursday.

The statistic was one of many that Williams and other public health experts discussed in “Eliminating Health Disparities: Transdisciplinary Perspectives,” a series of two panel events that analyzed inequalities in health for those in poverty and in minority groups.

“There has been this conundrum for a long time about why people of lower incomes...have different outcomes,” said University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, who introduced the event.

The first panel investigated the gap in health between minority or lower income groups and the rest of the population, and why the gap exists. Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds, one of the four speakers in this first discussion, focused her discussion on history’s role in driving racial disparities in the present day.

The second panel’s five speakers explored potential solutions to these disparities in health through action in the public policy arena.

Event co-chair and panelist Alexandra E. Shields, the director of the Harvard/MGH Center on Genomics, Vulnerable Populations, and Health Disparities, said the motivation of organizing the discussions was to raise awareness and understanding of differences in people’s health.

“Disparities remain persistent, dramatic, seemingly intractable,” Shields said. “Harvard has a lot of intellectual capital, disciplinary expertise, and resources that we could bring to bear to the problem. We hoped that this event would catalyze a renewed effort across schools and disciplines to find novel ways to contribute to understanding and addressing disparities.”

Julian M. Thomas, a fourth-year medical student who attended the event, thought the panels offered a new perspective on an old problem in medicine.

“I thought the panel was very informative and beneficial to walk through the different lenses people use to look at health disparities,” Thomas said.

Eve M. Nagler, a research assistant at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said she found the panel thought-provoking and noted that she especially appreciated that the second panel discussed not only health disparities but also its potential solutions.

“They did an excellent job really laying out the playing field of, ‘Here is what the situation of health disparities are,’” Nagler said. “I was most inspired by the solutions in that they ended on a word of optimism.”

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