|December 27, 2011|
Lexie Perreras became interested in public health through an undergraduate multicultural psychology course. She was appalled that racial and ethnic minorities bear a greater burden from unmet mental health needs. “The influence of stressors, such as discrimination, on mental and physical health was especially shocking,” she says.
Through an internship with a rehabilitation hospital in Chicago, she witnessed first-hand how societal forces can undermine an individual’s health. Many of the patients were minorities with newly acquired disabilities. In addition to dealing with the rehabilitation process, patients faced language barriers and discrimination which impeded their ability to seek needed resources.
The link between discrimination and health also became apparent through her work in Guatemala’s indigenous communities, particularly through the experience of women in these communities. Motivated by these experiences, she conducted a study which examined the moderating role of locus of control in the link between perceived racial discrimination and mental health outcomes in a sample of Latino college students. While individuals who are low on acculturation scales (e.g., they may not speak English) often are at risk for negative health behaviors and outcomes, Perreras found having a strong internal locus of control buffered this relationship.
“I am hoping to continue this research at UNC,” she says. “I’m confident that through the knowledge and skills I acquire as a health behavior and health education student, I will be able to use my education as a form of service to justice, especially for underrepresented populations.”
Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit www.sph.unc.edu/cph.