Why Are Hispanic Teens More Prone to Suicidal Thoughts?

Suicidal thoughts or attempts are not unusual for teenagers. It is a tumultuous time during which a young person is trying to figure out who she is and what her future will look like. She is going through physical changes. She may be standing up to a tidal wave of peer pressure and struggling to make good choices. For young Hispanics, these struggles lead to more suicidal thoughts than their peers. It is a problem that is going unrecognized and needs to be brought to light.

Hispanics Suffer More Mental Distress

According to a recent study that surveyed young people across the country, actual suicide rates for Hispanic teens are lower than those for their non-Hispanic peers. However, the study also found that Hispanics are much more likely to have suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide. The rates are particularly high among girls aged 15 and older. Boys are more successful at committing suicide because they choose methods that are final, such as hanging or guns. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide with pills, which is often reversible. Suicide rates show that boys die more often, but Hispanic girls attempt suicide at a significantly higher rate. The nationwide survey, along with a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that Hispanic girls are suffering greater mental distress than Hispanic boys and their non-Hispanic female peers. They report greater and more frequent feelings of depression, including hopelessness, sadness, worthlessness and apathy. The struggles are most difficult for Hispanic girls who are first-generation Americans. Those born in another country are much less likely to attempt suicide, but first-generation Hispanic American girls are struggling and feeling desperate.

Why Are Young Hispanics Struggling?

The facts are clear and easy to pinpoint through the use of surveys. What is less clear is why young Hispanics are feeling so sad and hopeless and thinking about taking their lives. One reason is adolescence itself. Growing up and transitioning from childhood to adulthood is a time filled with a wide range of emotions and many teens of all races think about suicide. Another issue is that Hispanics must navigate a cultural divide while making this transition. They have their family’s traditional culture and the larger American culture, and they have to try to fit in with both. Access to mental health care may be another factor in why young Hispanic boys and girls are struggling. Hispanics of all ages with mental health issues, and particularly with depression, are severely undertreated. Those without health insurance are especially likely to go untreated for depressive symptoms. Without treatment, depression can easily manifest as suicidal thoughts. Symptoms of depression don’t just go away. Depression is a serious mental illness and it requires treatment. If young Hispanics, and especially Hispanic girls, are not being diagnosed or treated, they will live with the sadness and hopelessness that can make life seem unbearable. All teens struggle at some point; growing up isn’t easy. But when one group of young people is suffering beyond what is normal or tolerable, action needs to be taken. First-generation Hispanic Americans seem to be most vulnerable, as do Hispanic girls. If these vulnerable populations could be targeted with preventive measures, it could make a huge difference in their lives. Clearly, healthcare access also needs to be expanded to reach more Hispanics with mental health issues. Hispanics need better access to health insurance and bilingual and bicultural health professionals. When these changes can be made, our young people will start to feel better about themselves and their futures.

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