Belinda Needham, PhD
Research focuses on gender differences in the link between mental and physical health across the life course
Belinda Needham is particularly interested in identifying developmental processes by which gender inequality shapes inequalities in health. Her work is grounded in the social structure and personality perspective, which attempts to uncover the ways in which social structural variables, such as gender, race/ethnicity, and class, influence individual personality, behavior, and well-being.
Her current research considers whether gender differences in mental health problems contribute to gendered patterns of physical health problems. Data from several community studies suggest that men’s and women’s mental health problems occur at similar rates, although they tend to have different types of disorders. While women have higher rates of internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety, men have higher rates of externalizing disorders, such as alcohol and drug abuse and antisocial behavior. This observation has led some social stress researchers to speculate that internalizing problems and externalizing problems are functionally equivalent, gendered reactions to stress. The goals of this project are (1) to determine whether internalizing and externalizing disorders have similar consequences for overall health, (2) to determine whether gender differences in the prevalence of these psychological disorders can help explain why women are more likely to have chronic debilitating disorders, such as arthritis and thyroid problems, while men are more likely to have chronic life-threatening disorders, such as coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, and (3) to identify the physiological mechanism(s) that link internalizing and externalizing disorders to specific diseases.
Belinda plans to continue this research when she joins the faculty of the Department of Sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall of 2008.