Latina teens have just topped the worst kind of chart. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study on high-risk behavior in youths and found that 15 percent of Latina adolescents in the U.S. have attempted suicide. That’s compared to 9.8 percent and 10.2 percent for white and black female teens, respectively. More than a quarter of Latina teens contemplated suicide. The struggle is officially real. But part of the problem might also be that no one is talking about it.
While it’s hard to say exactly why the struggle exists, researchers think it has something to do with being caught between two cultures, lack of communication and craving independence. Apparently, 14 to 15 is the peak age for suicide attempts among Latinas. That’s the age when most want to come into their own – and it takes more than a quinceañera for that to happen.
“The want for independence rubs up against their parents, who often have more traditional values that they try to put on their children,” said Dr. Luis Zaya, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin. Zaya’s research focus is on this very topic.
Those who were born to immigrant parents in the U.S. struggle because their parent’s culture has no or very little history for processing mental illness. “This is a very clear, but very overlooked trend.”
A lot of it comes down to Latinas bridging that vast cultural gap, “Can the child create their own bicultural identity?” Dr. Zaya asked.
States at highest risk for Latina teen suicide are those with the smallest Latino community. In 2015, some of the highest number of Latina suicide attempts happened in Hawaii, Idaho, Maine and Montana. Wyoming tops the list with 21.7 percent of Latinas attempting suicide last year. About 57,000 — or 10 percent — of Wyoming’s population is Latino, but that’s just 0.1 percent of all U.S. Latinos.
Writer Erika L. Sánchez has opened up about her own suicidal thoughts as a teenager. “I just wanted to be independent,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t this version of an ideal Mexican daughter that they expected.” She’s now 32 and one of the leading voices on this subject. Or, let’s be honest, one of the only voices.
When Sánchez was hospitalized at 15, her parents finally realized this wasn’t teenage girl melodrama, but genuine mental illness.
“Finally, they began to really see me,” says Sánchez. “And that’s when we began to have more honest conversations.”
Sánchez is fiercely honest about her depression in those days. Her first young adult novel “Brown Girl Problems” comes out next year, which confronts the theme of Latina teen depression. At least someone’s talking about it.
Read more here.