Researchers all across the University of Illinois campus are working towards advancing knowledge and creating solutions to critical health disparities on both local and global scales. These researchers evaluate health disparities from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, and work to find ways to address the discrepancies within medicine, child development, law, food access, education, and health communication. Each Researcher Spotlight features a health disparities researcher doing important work right here at Illinois.
Karen Tabb Dina, PhD
Assistant Professor, School of Social Work
Karen Tabb Dina, PhD, is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois. According the American Psychological Association, one in seven women, worldwide, suffer from perinatal depression every year. Tabb Dina’s research works to develop better programs and policies to increase awareness about the disorder.
What is your research in health disparities about?
I’m part of the IDEA research team, which stands for Identifying Depression through Early Assessment, and we have funding to study how to identify depression through early awareness. We are building a coalition of patients and providers and training them to engage in Health Disparities research with us; essentially, we are training them to look at comparative effectiveness research in clinical settings and identify treatments that work. With this patient-engagement effort, we hope to be designing a study in the future.
How are you conducting your research?
We use registry data—depression registries where we track depression over time—and we look for what some call health services research (also called clinical epidemiology). The registry work allows us to examine the prevalence, trends, and risk factors in perinatal depression. In some of the first findings that are coming out, we are looking at racial and ethnic differences and suicidal ideation after women give birth. We are also looking at the onset or timing of depression during pregnancy. We know it’s important, but if we identify when it is happening we can better target interventions for mothers.
How does being a part of the Illinois community support and enhance your research?
For me what’s exciting is that across the university there are so many people doing maternal and child health research in different ways. This enables us to draw from the expertise of people in areas like psychology or community health and look at the same topic through a different lens. It makes our research that much more rich and impactful on the user end of it. And of course, there is a whole host of resources on this campus, most of which I feel are untapped. The other thing about being here at Illinois that’s so special is that clinics are eager and open to partnerships. There is less competition to do clinical research and clinics are open to partnering with researchers, which is not the case all over the country.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study
There is a story, but it is personal, so I usually share that with the patients to let them know why I am doing this research. But I can say, I have been doing this research for ten years now and it has always been important to me. Almost four years ago I became pregnant, and I was then a user of the system I was studying. I experienced pregnancy and delivery in the hospital, I was screened for depression, I had these conversations with my provider—which gave me a unique lens of being on the other side, of being the patient. I feel like that has fueled my research, not necessarily in new directions, but given it more energy.
How will your research improve society or reach people?
The research that we are doing is assisting in translation of findings and the speed of translation of findings from research to practice. So whenever we conduct a study—say we conducted a study on the prevalence of smoking, or on adolescent pregnancy and depression—as soon as we have those results we present them back to the clinic and the clinicians. There is no lengthy publication dissemination gap—through our partnerships, we are able to inform local practitioners immediately.
Also, through our patient-engaged research partnerships we have patient experience that feeds into our research. With Obamacare, we are moving in to this angle of having integrated health and patient centeredness in all of our findings. So by training the patients to become researchers, it’s not only a paradigm shift but it increases the applicability of our findings. You can find the best treatment in the world, but if people don’t want to do it, it doesn’t matter.