Posted on January 5, 2017 in Mental Health

Hispanic Girls at Elevated Risk for Suicide

According to statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts are significantly higher in Hispanic girls than in teens of other ethnicities and races. These numbers have been rising and are equally high among all Hispanic countries of origin. There are no definitive answers as to why these teenage girls are so vulnerable, but experts are hopeful that there are ways to curb the trend and to reverse it.

Suicide Statistics

The CDC tells us that suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 15 and 24. We also know that males are more likely to die by suicide, but that girls have more suicidal thoughts and make more attempts. An explanation for the discrepancy in deaths by gender is that males tend to use guns, while females are more likely to use pills. By ingesting pills, girls are more likely to be resuscitated and to recover from a suicide attempt.

When the statistics look at high school students (teens in grades nine through 12), Hispanic girls have the highest rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts when compared to their female peers. They attempt suicide at a rate of 13.5 percent. The rate of suicide attempts among African American teen girls is 8.8 percent, and among Caucasian teens, it is 7.9 percent.

Why Are Hispanic Girls Suicidal?

Experts don’t have one absolute answer to this question, but most believe that a cultural clash is the biggest issue. Hispanic girls, especially those with immigrant parents, are caught between two cultures with two different sets of values for girls. In Hispanic culture, girls are expected to be virtuous, docile and dependent. In modern American culture, girls are expected to be independent and are allowed to take more risks and break cultural barriers.

This culture clash can create a huge amount of tension for girls and set them up for unrealistic expectations on each side of the cultural divide. The issue is more divisive for girls than for boys. The tension can be stressful and exacerbate other risk factors for suicide, like mental illness or bullying. A study found that Hispanic girls who have been bullied are one-and-a-half times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who have not experienced bullying.

Mental health could be another factor in the higher rates of suicide among Hispanic girls. Mental illness carries a stigma in most cultures, but more so among Hispanic populations than the general U.S. population. In Hispanic families, mental illness is often ignored or kept a secret and individuals are much more likely to seek help or advice from friends, family or a priest than a mental health professional.

Even when Hispanic girls do try to get help for mental illness, the professional community is not often equipped to handle their needs. There are language and cultural barriers between healthcare providers and Hispanic patients that prevent the latter from getting the best possible care. As a result of all these factors, mental illness often goes untreated in Hispanic girls, which can help explain the higher rates of suicide.

The statistics are grim and upsetting, but they can be turned around. Families should intervene when young girls show signs of being depressed or suicidal. Not keeping it a secret will save lives. To help reduce the stigma so that more girls can get help, community awareness and education can be powerful. The more people in the Hispanic community start talking about suicide and mental health, the easier it will be for girls to get the help they desperately need.

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