Dec 22, 2014

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Que Pasa? Young Latinas and Suicide Attempts

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Did you know that young Latinas attempt suicide at a much higher rate than any other ethnic group?  According to the 2009 CDC survey of high school students, 1 out of 9 Latina teens attempts suicide, and the rate is higher (15-21%) in New York City.

Like many taboo subjects, suicide is not something that is widely known, reported or discussed in the media or at home.  But Dr. Luis Zayas, director of Center for Latino Family Research, is spreading the word.  Dr. Zayas completed a five-year, groundbreaking study on Latina moms, their daughter and suicide. He attributes suicide attempts by young Latinas to insufficient emotional well-being and lack of open communication with their parents.  Suicide attempts are not necessarily actual desires for death; rather a way of communicating distress, explains Dr. Zayas.

He further believes that the root of the issue is the family members’ concept of sexuality, and the family’s difficulties dealing with the teenager’s need for autonomy, given the emphasis on family cohesion.  Life, for many young Latinas is a contradiction:  she is expected to act like an adult, while being denied the right to engage in ordinary things teenagers do.  Furthermore, there is also an alarming rate of depression and anxiety among Latina teens.

Another major contributing factor is the lack of mental health services, especially services that are sensitive to Latino families and language.  Poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and inadequate housing can also add to the stress that young Latinas experience.

An urgent call to elected official and community leaders has been placed in New York City, where two in five young Latinas report attempting suicide at least once.  Dr. Rosa Gil, the creator of Life is Precious, a suicide prevention program for Latina teens, is raising awareness about this tragedy.  The program provides culturally relevant and family-centered services to Hispanic teens and their families.  For more information, or to make a donation, please call Beatriz Coronel at (917) 304-3645, or email: bcoronel@comunlife.org, aruiz@nydailynews.com.  For other articles on this important topic, visit LatinoUSA.org and NYDailyNews.com.

Que pasa? What do you think it’s going on?  What should can we do as parents and as a community?


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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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