University Hospitals Studying a Self-Management Treatment for Black Women with Depression and at Risk for High Blood Pressure

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Research funded through $450,000 grant from American Heart Association

Researchers at University Hospitals (UH), with support from an American Heart Association® grant, will work to better understand how to successfully treat Black women diagnosed with depression who are also at risk for high blood pressure.

The American Heart Association has awarded five research teams across the country a total of $2 million to fund scientific research focused on better understanding the impact around social determinants of health, social risk factors and health-related social needs on women’s hypertension in under-resourced populations. Each awardee’s team will receive $225,000 per year for two years, beginning in July 2022. Leading the team at UH is Jennifer B. Levin, Ph.D., psychologist, UH Cleveland Medical Center, and professor, Department of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a primary risk factor that increases a person’s chances of stroke, heart attack, and coronary artery disease. According to the CDC, nearly half of adults in the United States have hypertension, but only one in four adults have it under control. High blood pressure is more common in Black adults than in those of other races, also according to the CDC.

“There is research being done that explores the role of these factors on cardiovascular health, but many studies are limited by small sample sizes and underrepresentation of ethnic and racial groups, as well as women, particularly those with mental health challenges,” said Dr. Levin. “We need clinical trials specifically focused on under-resourced women to better understand their health struggles and needs and, furthermore, how best to treat them. That is why the work that will be done, thanks to this grant, is so important.”

According to the CDC, some mental health disorders like major depression are associated with heart disease and other risk factors.

Dr. Levin’s study will focus specifically on Black women with depression who are at risk for high blood pressure. Participants will be recruited from Northeast Ohio. The project will test a group treatment, led by a nurse and a trained peer-educator to increase feelings of belonging and engagement. The group will meet using a virtual platform enabling participants to join from home, learning ways to manage heart health with positive changes to diet, activity level, and other health behaviors. Group leaders will also teach stress management and problem-solving skills to decrease depression symptoms. If the treatment works, it could inform ways to improve both mental health and heart health for Black women.

To effectively address existing gaps in research, researchers need to be able to easily combine and compare data from multiple studies. This will help lead to a big-picture understanding by establishing a common language and standard set of metrics to further the ability to combine data from multiple studies, measure impact, and improve our understanding of social and environmental variables that impact quality-of-life related risks and outcomes.

Each grant includes an Amazon Web Services (AWS) credit for $50,000 per year for use on the American Heart Association Precision Medicine Platform. The Precision Medicine Platform, powered by AWS, is a central hub for the cardiovascular and stroke research community to access vast and diverse datasets and cloud-based workspaces that enable state-of-the-art, high-performance computing, analytics and collaboration to accelerate scientific discovery. The Precision Medicine Platform provides streamlined data access and cloud-based workspaces, removing traditional barriers researchers often face when approaching challenging scientific questions.

Research funded by this grant will be contributed to the American Heart Association’s Research Goes Red, an online participant-centric data registry focused on improving women’s health, established by the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women® initiative in collaboration with Verily’s Project Baseline, connecting women in the United States with scientists and clinicians to involve more women in research.

“UH is committed to improving the health of all people in Northeast Ohio and beyond by advancing science and human health,” said Dr. Levin. “Participating in this study will produce crucial information about women’s health and contribute it to a national database where it can be evaluated in multiple ways for a variety of uses. This is the future of research.”

Receiving adequate medical care is only one piece of the puzzle. Understanding the role of social determinants of health is crucial to creating equitable health for all.

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