The Alarming Rise of Suicide Among Latina Teens

Demi Lovato should be comforted by the fact that she is not the only teenage Latina to struggle with emotional issues. Unfortunately, as we reported in Sound the Alarm, written by Christina Hernandez for the March 2010 issue, suicide is an increasingly alarming trend among young Latinas.

One in seven Latina teenagers will attempt suicide. More Latina high school students will attempt suicide than black non-Hispanic (9.9 percent) and white non-Hispanic (7.7 percent) teen girls, reports the CDC.

Luis Zayas, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University who recently completed a five-year study of more than 200 Latinas and their moms, told Hernandez that while the reasons vary, the most common cause behind Latina teen suicide attempts was an ongoing struggle between a teen who wants freedom and parents who won’t allow such independence. This tension is augmented in families with immigrant parents who hold on to traditional values and daughters born in the United States who want to live like modern American women.

In urban centers like New York and Dallas, pressures such as poverty, domestic violence and inadequate housing can aggravate an already delicate situation. Health centers in New York, and Texas are trying to address the problem by providing “culturally relevant and family-centered services to Hispanic teens and their families,” Dr. Rosa Gil, founder of suicide prevention program Life is Precious, told the NY Daily News.

Gil’s program was so successful that Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) sought federal funding to open a branch in her home borough of Brooklyn, where an astounding 21.6% of Latina teens attempted suicide in 2009.

“Now is when we’re seeing action,” Zayas told Hernandez. “I hope we’re at a turning point.”