Depression/suicide among Caucasian/Native Americans

Based on the material from this week, it can be seen that there is a close relationship between race, genetics, and health. A person’s genes can help in the determination of what kinds of illnesses they can get, for example malaria and sickle cell anemia. In this week’s lectures, it was discussed how malaria is a very deadly mosquito-borne parasite that can infect human blood and result in death. In Africa, this parasite commonly infects those that reside in places where the concentration of mosquitoes is high. However, aside from medicine, there is a very interesting way that malaria can be prevented. Once upon a time, a person that lived in an area where malaria is common was born with sickle cell anemia. This deformity of the red blood cells was able to prevent the malaria parasite from properly infecting the host’s red blood cells, thus resulting in a form of malaria prevention. Since people were dying from malaria, only those that had the sickle cell disease or those that happened to not contract malaria, survived and reproduced. Over time, in areas that had large amount of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, those with sickle cell anemia began to flourish because they were not being killed off y the deadly parasite. This is an exact example on how genetics can directly affect your health.

As far as race, this correlation can become considerably more difficult to explain. According to C. C. Gravlee in his article “How Race Becomes Biology: Embodiment of Social Inequality” he defines race as being “a culturally structured, systematic way of looking at, perceiving, and interpreting reality.” But how exactly does this relate to health? Through Gravlee’s data in his article, he conducted research on this very topic. He was able to conclude that there are many differences, health wise, among American’s of different races such as heart skin cancer being more common in Caucasians and kidney disease being more common in African-American’s. I believe this correlation between race and health has to do with where each race originated from and how their genes differ from one another. For example, Caucasians may be more prone to skin cancer than African-American’s because in Africa, the natives had much greater sun exposure which eventually resulted in a higher resistance to skin cancer over time because only those that didn’t die from the sun exposure carried on to reproduce.


Depression and suicide are two problems that many Americans face. However, the Americans that are the most prone to becoming depressed/suicidal are Native Americans. This depression has a direct relationship with the amount of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, sexual assault, alcoholism, and drug abuse that is seen throughout these people. I believe that the causes of depression among Native Americans have much more to do with social determinants as opposed to genetic determinants. After the return of some of the land back to the Native Americans, they were forced to live on reservations where they had to control their own laws and people. Over the years, many reservations became similar to modern day slums due to the poverty and unemployment of Native Americans. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression were direct results of the poverty which were then followed by domestic violence and sexual assault.

National Center for Children in Poverty. “Adolescent Mental Health in the United States”

CDC. “Diabetes and Depression Among American Indian and Alaskan Native Elders”


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Pamela Perez says:

    I really liked how you broke down race. I wouldn’t have considered Gravlee’s point of view, but it makes a lot of sense reading it in the way you wrote it. The whole idea of it coming down to how we ” [interpret] reality,” is really interesting, because I do support the concept of health being defined by how we, as individuals, perceive the world around us. I feel like you didn’t directly mention other factors, like environmental ones. In the case of Malaria/Sickle Cell among the African populations, their environmental situations was a major component. Though your surroundings don’t necessarily have a direct impact on your genetic make-up all at once, over time it does through evolutionary processes. You included that point of view more closely when talking about the Native Americans.

    When it comes to racial categories and the accuracy they offer when it comes to health, I stand a little on the dubious side. As a nation, I feel we should be well past the time where race is an important factor to determine health. There are so many other factors that play in now, that race sometimes does not offer a plausible cause or effect. I feel like using racialized health disparities should be considered as a “maybe” throughout the determination of health treatment, avoidance, and diagnosis. For example, just because there is a higher prevalence of Native Americans born into families who have experienced depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc… does not mean that the kids born within those families will automatically succumb to those substances or state of mind. What about considering the strength of an individualistic state of mind? If that makes any sense.

    • Jenny Hallesy says:

      I agree with you completely on how our nation should be moving past using race as a factor to determine health. A lot of what I wrote about the Native Americans comes from my own person experience. I am a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa tribe and I have spent quite a decent amount of time on our land when I head up each summer to visit. It’s so frustrating to see how the chief and other higher ranked members treat those at are much lower on the totem pole (no pun intended). What’s unfortunate about my tribe (and I’m sure many others) is that there is a lot of corruption amongst the higher ranks. So many are in it for the money to the point that they allow their own people to live in slums rather than assisting in maintaining a more healthy living area. The first time I saw a major part of our reservation, I was appalled at the living conditions these people are forced to reside in. Something else I have noticed about being out there is how non-natives feel about the natives. Some of the non-natives seem to have a bit of racism towards the natives which i’m sure stems from past events. I believe this may be a reason it is so difficult for the natives, specifically my tribe, to find jobs outside of those offered by the tribe. As far as what you said about children being born in these conditions having a potential stronger state of mind, I do agree with you and there are some that are able to make it out of the poverty. However, this is much less common than those just living with what they know. The pure blood natives of my tribe still feel anger towards the non-natives and refuse to get jobs that aren’t offered by the tribes simply because they do not want to work for people that once oppressed them. It’s a very difficult situation to observe, and again these are from my own experiences. While things are being done to help bring money to the tribe (for example, my tribe will be building a casino in Lansing hopefully within the next few years), this potential money intake doesn’t help with the corruption that lead to my chief selling one of our most profitable casinos in Detroit to make a little extra pocket change. Excuse me for the long, drawn-out rant, this is just something I’m very passionate about. If you or anyone else has any questions about any of this, please feel free to let me know! And also, I appreciate the thought and effort you put into responding to my post. Thank you very much for the additional insight!

  2. Mary Normand says:

    I like how you used Gravlee’s definition of race because race is culturally structured, not something that is in anyone’s genetics. I like how you mentioned the malaria and relationship between sickle cell anemia, but you could have mentioned the relationship between environment and how that was the reason they developed the resistance to malaria or sickle cell anemia. The Africans have developed a resistance to malaria over time due to their environment. Their environment has had an impact on their genetics. It isn’t their race that has impacted them, since Africans in another part of Africa do not have the resistance to malaria or the sickle cell anemia trait, the combination of environment, geography and genetics has contributed to the relationship between malaria and sickle cell anemia.

    I agree with you that the alcoholism in Native Americans has a lot to do with social factors considering the high rates of poverty and depression on the reservations. But there are also some genetic factors to think of. Since alcohol was not introduced into their culture until very late, there is some research that they do not have a genetic tolerance to it and are, therefore, more prone to the negative effects of alcohol.

  3. Taylor Cheney says:

    I am glad you mentioned Gravlee’s definition of race in your post. It made me think further about how race is not only just your ethnicity or where you live, but also your social standing, your culture, beliefs, and many other things that come into play. And you really showed how your race is not defined by genetics. Your examples with malaria and sickle cell anemia provided more clarity as far as your example as well. I think you could have mentioned in your post how their environment can effect how the diseases may effect them, though. For example, the Africans and other middle-eastern peoples have possibly developed more of a prone-ness to malaria and sickle cell anemia due to their environment and geographic being somewhere that they are constantly exposed to those things.

    When it comes to racial categories and clinical studies, I believe that there are many factors that can effect the health of other cultures and races based on where they live and what they are exposed to. I like that you chose the health disparity of depression and suicide rates among Native Americans. Living in America, the Native Americans typically live in somewhat of a state of poverty, which can lead to depression. I however, believe, that it is not only the Native Americans in America that are faced with this issue. Many people in poverty and poor living conditions can become depressed, possibly leading to suicidal actions.

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