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Suicides Among Young Latinas Skyrocketing

The youth most at-risk for suicide are Hispanic girls. They are almost twice as likely as non-hispanic girls to attempt suicide. Latino Adolescents account for “41.1% of youth in the United States” (Pew Hispanic Center 2009) and they “are at greatest risk for psychiatric and behavioral disorders” (Haussman-stabile et al).

Some journals focus on the “familial, cultural and developmental issues” that have been cited as critical aspects in order to understand Latina adolescents’ suicidal behavior. If one is not aware of Hispanic culture, one may not realize the importance and prevalence of this term.  Familism is “a core value promoted by many individuals of Hispanic or Latino descent that emphasizes the primacy of the family over the individual ”(Nolle et al). This means one ends up making material or emotional sacrifices for the sake of the family. There is then the belief that everything should be done for the greater good of the family. While it sounds like a great way to live, it often brings many problems among family members, especially if a certain individual is not sacrificing as much as they are expected to. Living in a country that pushes individualism, it is easy to understand why these two cultures (American and Latino) would clash. For example, a child might want to pursue some type of extra-curricular activity, but if the certain activity makes it harder for the family to function, she will have to sacrifice the fun activity in order to make the family happy. In American culture, it is not the same. Parents encourage children to take part in activities for self-development and encourage them to become their own individuals. Not being able to participate in a certain activity might lead a Hispanic child to hold resentments over time or not be able to develop like her American counterparts. If she hears that her friends are pursuing ballet but she has made the decision to not even ask because she knows that this will cause her mother to work harder, she will feel a sense of unfairness not coming from her own family, but from the world in itself. Especially children of immigrants having been aware of how many sacrifices their parents have made in order to give them a better life, so they feel a duty to repay their family by making sacrifices. In American culture, there is a love for family but teens are encouraged to choose their individual needs first.

There is often an obligation to do well in school, but if the family is going through hardships: financial, health-wise or other challenges, those become more important than anything the teen might be dealing with themselves. This leads to a big sense of responsibility that the teen wants to get rid of possibly by ending their life. The bigger problem seems to be the emotional suppression going on. Latina girls will often not share how they are feeling “out of concern for the parents” (Frankenfield). If the family is already going through problems, bringing problems of their own seems to be the worst thing that they could do for their family. Parents do not seek help for mental illness either, so often times, Latina girls have to focus on the mental health of their parents before their own, and they will try to do everything to the best of their ability in order to make their parents feel better, but when they are not being able to help, it may bring feelings of incompetence, helplessness, and hopelessness.

It is crucial for service providers to understand “the ways in which Hispanic cultural values are expressed and how they impact individuals and family functioning” (Kataoka) but the biggest problem is that most Hispanics are not getting help for mental disorders.


Frankenfield, D. L., Keyl, P. M., Gielen, A., Wissow, L. S., Werthamer, L., & Baker, S. P. (2000). Adolescent patients-healthy or hurting? missed opportunities to screen for suicide risk in the primary care setting. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 154(2), 162-168.

Gould, M. S., Greenberg, T., Velting, D. M., & Shaffer, D. (2003). Youth suicide risk and preventive interventions: A review of the past 10 years. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 42(4), 386-405.

Hausmann-Stabile, C., Kuhlberg, J. A., Zayas, L. H., Nolle, A. P., & Cintron, S. L. (2012). Means, intent, lethality, behaviors, and psychiatric diagnosis in Latina adolescent suicide attempters. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice, 43(3), 241-248. doi:10.1037/a0026258

Hull-Blanks, E. E., Kerr, B. A., & Robinson Kurpius, S. E. (2004). Risk factors of suicidal ideations and attempts in talented, at-risk girls. Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior, 34(3), 267-276.

Kataoka, S. H., Stein, B. D., Lieberman, R., & Wong, M. (2003). Datapoints: Suicide prevention in schools: Are we reaching minority youths? Psychiatric Services, 54(\ 1), 1444.

Lewinsohn, P. M., Rohde, P., Seeley, J. R., & Baldwin, C. L. (2001). Gender differences in suicide attempts from adolescence to young adulthood. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(4), 427-434.

Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006a). The NSDUH report: Risk of suicide among Hispanic females aged 12 to 17. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from

Romero, A. J. & Ruiz, M. (2007). Does familism lead to increased parental monitoring? Protective factors for coping with risky behaviors. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16, 143–154.

Zayas, L. H., Bright, C. L., Alvarez-Sanchez, T. & Cabassa, L. J. (2009). Acculturation, familism and mother-daughter relations among suicidal and non-suicidal adolescent Latinas. Journal of Primary Prevention, 30, 351–369.

Zayas, L. H., Kaplan, C, Turner, S., Romano, K., & Gonzalez Ramos, G. (2000). Understanding suicide attempts by adolescent Hispanic females. Social Work, 45(1), 53-63.

Zayas, L. H., Lester, R. J., Cabassa, L. J., & Fortuna, L. R. (2005). Why do so many Latina teens attempt suicide? A conceptual model for research. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 75(2), 275-287.

If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

To work directly with Stephanie, or to learn more about PeakBrain’s brain training or counseling services call 972.449.0441.

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