Christopher Burke, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Psychology

My research focuses on the links between stress and physical/mental health and the social/structural factors that strengthen or weaken such links. Stress is intimately linked to public health issues, as it can be both an antecedent and a consequence of chronic health problems. It is perhaps not surprising that chronic health problems can be a source of stress, but recent work also shows that the accumulation of stress over one's lifetime increases susceptibility to a wide range of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. It does so by disrupting the hormonal pathways that regulate the immune system, as well as by promoting negative health behaviors, such as smoking and drinking. Stress can also increase susceptibility to mental health problems, which is where most of my current work is situated. As an example, I'm currently conducting two studies looking at the link between stress during pregnancy and risk for postpartum depression (PPD). PPD affects approximately 10-15% of women following childbirth, and research shows that stress during pregnancy increases risk for PPD. My current studies are examining the hormonal mediators of the process (it turns out that one hormone that increases dramatically during pregnancy can impair the body's stress response) and the role of social support (emotional and tangible assistance from family and friends) in mitigating such risk.