Research & Practice

My Research Goals:

As an Early Public Health-Social Work Scientist and Professional, my long term goal is to become an interdisciplinary researcher whose primary area of study examines and clarifies the psychosocial and physiological mechanisms that distinguish physical and mental health risk among Black communities.

More specifically, I aim to assess the psychological and physiological implications of experiencing racism-related stress across the life course among Black women, and the utility of culturally-relevant forms of coping, such as John Henryism and Superwoman Schema.

In other words, my research goals involve understanding how chronic stress, racism, and culturally relevant coping shape the physical and mental health of Black communities, with a focus on Black women. I want to ensure that Black communities, particularly Black women have the opportunity and tools to thrive. Due to my joint training in Social Work and Public Health, an additional goal of mine is to understand how to translate these findings into practice, so that these communities have both the knowledge and access to resources that are necessary to effect change.

However, this cannot be done without structural changes and dismantling systems of inequity. To learn more about my journey, and why I am passionate about this work, read more here.

Research Interests

Mental & Physical Health

Racism-Related Stress

John Henryism

Chronic Stress

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Black American Women

Culturally-Relevant Coping

Allostatic Load

Critical Race Theory

Featured Research

Research shows that John Henryism, a high-effort, active coping style, is associated with poor physical health, whereas others suggest it may be psychologically beneficial. As such, it is unclear whether John Henryism represents a health risk or resource for Black Americans and whether its impact varies across sociodemographic and gender groups. The present study used data from a representative community sample of black Americans (n = 627) from the Nashville Stress and Health Study (2011–2014) to clarify the physical and mental health consequences of John Henryism by assessing its relationship with depressive symptoms and allostatic load (AL). Results indicate that John Henryism is associated with increased AL scores and fewer depressive symptoms. Additionally, the association between John Henryism and AL is conditional on socioeconomic status. Study results underscore the importance of evaluating both physical and mental health to clarify the health significance of John Henryism among Black Americans.

Robinson, Millicent N. and Courtney S. Thomas Tobin. 2021. “Is John Henryism a Health Risk or Resource?: Exploring the Role of Culturally Relevant Coping for Physical and Mental Health among Black Americans .” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 62(2):136–51.

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Brief Summary Infographic Slides

Many African American women are heavily burdened by unmet mental health needs yet underuse mental health services. The superwoman schema (SWS) conceptual framework provides a new culturally sensitive framework to enhance researchers’, providers’, and educators’ understanding of the barriers to mental health service use among this group. The “superwoman” role involves perceived obligations to (1) project strength, (2) suppress emotions, (3) resist feelings of vulnerability and dependence, (4) succeed despite limited resources, and (5) prioritize caregiving over self-care. In this study, the SWS framework guided a secondary qualitative analysis of data from eight focus groups comprised of 48 African American women from the southeastern United States and a broad range of age and educational backgrounds. Results suggest that the major components of SWS, as well as perceived stigma, religious and spiritual concerns, and the desire for culturally sensitive providers, influenced participants’ perceptions and use of mental healthcare. Understanding how SWS operates in African American women may (1) enable researchers to better understand and develop interventions to mitigate disparities in mental health service use; (2) help healthcare professionals to engage and treat this population more effectively; and (3) equip health professions educators to improve the cultural sensitivity of the next generation of providers.

Woods-Giscombe, C. L., Robinson, M.N., Carthron, D. & Devane-Johnson, S. & Corbie-Smith, G. (2016). Superwoman Schema, stigma, spirituality, and (culturally) sensitive providers: Factors influencing mental health service utilization in African American women. Journal of Best Practices in Health Professions Diversity: Research, Education, and Policy. 9(1): 1124-1144.

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Prior research suggests that there are health benefits associated with marriage, although the physiological implications of marital status for women’s health is less clear. Given that recent trends indicate that Black women are less likely to marry than White women, the goal of this study was to evaluate whether marital status accounts for racial differences in women’s physical health. Using data from the Nashville Stress and Health Study (2011–2014), we estimated the probability of high allostatic load (AL), a biological indicator of physiological dysregulation, among women aged 18–69. We examined AL scores by race and marital status, evaluated the extent to which Black-White differences persisted after accounting for marital status, and assessed whether the racial disparity in AL varied across marital status groups. Results indicated that Black women had higher AL than White women, although racial differences in AL were not explained by marital status. In addition, marital status was a significant predictor of AL among Black, but not White women. Moreover, the racial disparity in AL was smallest among never married women and largest among currently and formally married women. Taken together, these findings suggest that Black-White inequalities in women’s physical health are not explained by racial differences in marital status, despite the widening racial gap in marriage. Nevertheless, marital status may be an influential factor in shaping outcomes among Black women.

Thomas Tobin, C. S., Robinson, M. N., & Stanifer, K. (2019). Does marriage matter? Racial differences in allostatic load among women. Preventive Medicine Reports, 15(100948), 1-6. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100948

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