by New York Community Media Alliance staff
NEW YORK - According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every seven Hispanic female teens (15 percent) in New York City attempts suicide before reaching adulthood. The rate is double that of non-Hispanic female adolescents in the city. Nationwide, 11 percent of young Latinas try to take their own lives. That figure is less than in New York, but still disturbingly high. Even more alarming, the rate of attempted suicide is higher in certain boroughs. In the Bronx, for example, one out of every six Latina teens tries to kill herself.
"New York City has the highest percentage of suicides among young Hispanic females than any other community in the country," said Dr. Rosa Gil, president of Comunilife, a member organization of the Hispanic Federation. "We are especially concerned that in Brooklyn 22 percent of Latina adolescents considers or attempts suicide. That means that one in five adolescents in Brooklyn suffer with this terrible problem."
We are dealing with very alarming rates, especially when compared with other segments of the population. For instance, while Hispanic female youths have an attempted suicide rate of 15 percent, white female non-Hispanic teens have a rate slightly higher than 9 percent, and African-American non-Hispanic female teens have a rate of slightly less than 10 percent.
A study by the Association of Hispanic Mental Health Professionals, another member organization of the Hispanic Federation, explains that "besides various inter-generational problems that can be factors contributing to suicidal tendencies, the Hispanic female adolescents that run the highest risk are those born in the United States, because they experience greater social pressures."
In the countries of origin where the majority of Hispanic immigrants come from, the rates of suicide and attempted teen suicide have not risen significantly. This is evidence that the increase in attempted suicides among Latina adolescents in America is related to immigration and to families' adaptation – or lack thereof – to their new homeland.
"Many of these girls live in homes where the mother is the main breadwinner and has to work two jobs. Various kinds of stress arise in these circumstances," explained Dr. Gil.
Life is precious
Comunilife runs a youth suicide prevention program called Life is Precious, which began in 2008 in the Bronx and is geared toward young Latinas that have attempted suicide or expressed suicidal tendencies. After teens receive adequate treatment, they also receive academic support in order to eliminate feelings of inferiority or depression related to school. "The program helps parents as well," added Dr. Gil.
It is critical that young Latinas and their families not only receive bilingual services for prevention and treatment but ones that are culturally sensitive as well, like those offered by Comunilife, Inc. and the Association of Hispanic Mental Health Professionals.