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NAMI Facilitator Conducts Study on Heart Disease Risk Among Black Women in the South

Written by: Windy Cunningham

Childhood trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common; however, minorities are more likely to experience long lasting and serious negative health outcomes, primarily because they frequently lack the support, health care and resources to recover.  As a result, left untreated, childhood trauma can lead to serious mental health conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a multitude of health problems. Black women are especially vulnerable as they often navigate multiple stressors throughout their lifetime: toxic stress, stress from discrimination and sexism and daily exposure to community stressors, but forego medical and mental healthcare.

To mitigate this stress, many Black women adopt the persona of a “Superwoman,” believing that their own strength will provide sufficient protection from impending doom. And they also seek out and receive social support from family, friends and church.  But the question remains: are they able to protect the one asset they need to survive: their hearts? There’s a clear relationship between chronic stress and heart disease risk but there’s still much more to learn, especially for this vulnerable group.

To explore this relevant topic, Florida A&M University Public Health doctoral student and NAMI Connections Support Group Facilitator Windy Cunningham developed the Our Heart Study, an examination of the impact of ACES, support and coping on heart disease risk among Black women in the south. With an ACE score of nine and having overcome multiple adversities such as abuse, homelessness and domestic violence, Windy knows first-hand the benefits of receiving support during the recovery journey. She recognizes the support she received from family and friends, church and NAMI as pivotal in her own recovery and with helping her develop into the leader she is today.

By participating and answering questions on health, stress and culture, researchers can better understand what factors are more likely to help protect Black women from developing heart disease and what factors are more likely to put them at risk. Women who identify as Black and live in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and North Florida are eligible to complete the online questionnaire.

Please help bring awareness of and participation in the Our Heart Study by doing any or all of the following:

  • If eligible, take the Our Heart Study online questionnaire and let others know that you did
  • Encourage Black women to take the Our Heart Study online questionnaire
  • Forward this post to your friends, family and colleagues
  • Visit the study website and share it with others
  • Like the Our Heart Study Facebook page
  • Share the questionnaire link and flyer on your social media pages explaining that the online questionnaire is important, confidential and simple to complete

This is an unfunded study so participants will not be paid; however, they can enter into a raffle to win one of two $50 gift cards. Click here to participate:

Windy Y. Cunningham is a Survivor, mother and advocate for trauma Survivors and the mental health community. She holds professional certifications in Health Education and Peer Support. She began her research career over 15 years ago as a Research Coordinator in academia. She is currently a Site Manager at a Clinical Research Organization in Durham, North Carolina. After graduating with a doctoral degree in Public Health, she plans to continue her research focusing on the biology of stress, epigenetics, ACEs and women’s health. She has been a NAMI volunteer since 2016. To learn more about her work, visit You can contact her at

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