Center for Asian Health Equity to study structural violence, mental health of Asian immigrants

The University of Chicago’s Center for Asian Health Equity (CAHE) is collaborating with the University of Illinois at Chicago as part of UIC’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER), a specialized center of excellence in minority health and health disparities.

As part of the collaboration, researchers at the University of Chicago Medicine will lead a study on the effects of structural violence on the mental health of Asian immigrant populations. Concurrently, researchers from UIC will examine how colorectal cancer risk in the black community correlates to experiences of racism. Another UIC team will study the relationship between stress due to racial discrimination and cardiovascular disease outcomes in Latino families.

The entire effort is supported by a $6.75 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Southeast Asian immigrants in the United States face significant psychological distress due to their unique psychosocial stressors associated with their pre-migration history,” said Karen Kim, MD, a professor of medicine and the director of CAHE. “Unlike Chinese immigrants from East Asia who voluntarily came to the United States, Southeast Asian immigrants arrived in the United States as refugees and political immigrants to escape persecution, structural and physical violence, or to flee a war-torn country.”

Kim is UChicago Medicine’s principal investigator for the joint effort. She will be joined by co-investigators Seeba Anam, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, and Miwa Yasui, PhD, an assistant professor in UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

“Studies have found that exposure to trauma has lingering effects on intergenerational mental health including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, which may, in part, explain the high rates of mental health disorder among Southeast Asian immigrants,” said Anam.

CAHE will contribute to CHER’s work by examining how structural violence and isolation that occur during the “lived experiences” of Asian immigrants can result in negative mental health outcomes.

CAHE is a partnership between the University of Chicago and the Asian Health Coalition, a non-profit, community-based affiliate that works with over 25 different Asian organizations in the Chicago metropolitan area. This academic-community partnership brings together the assets of a world-class research institution and a respected non-profit organization to investigate health disparities that disproportionately affect the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations. The center takes a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach through a comprehensive program for community engagement, research, education, training, dissemination and policy.