Disparities in suicidal behaviors among U.S. teenagers, particularly girls, have been documented now for over two decades. Since 1991, CDC surveys consistently show that adolescent Latinas attempt suicide at rates much higher than African-American and non-Hispanic, White girls. Even with three decades of surveys, no study has systematically compared Latinas to other girls to understand Latinas’ propensity to suicidal behavior. While family conflict often accounts for suicide attempts across adolescents, we do not know what qualitative differences in family dynamics influence Latina daughters to attempt suicide more than peers. Past research literature does not explain—in fact, it raises additional questions about—the decades-old pattern of Latinas attempting suicide more often than other girls.

The overarching goal of this project is to deepen knowledge of the higher likelihood of Latinas toward suicide attempts in contrast to non-Hispanic peers. What are the qualitative differences in Hispanic family dynamics that influence daughters to attempt suicide more than their racial/ethnic peers? What, if any, are the substantive differences in how Latinas react to and interpret family dynamics and conflict in contrast to other teenage females that raise their susceptibility to attempt suicide? To discern racial/ethnic group differences that may reveal Latinas’ propensity to suicidal behaviors, we will address (a) experiences of psychological vulnerabilities, developmental factors, and personal life contexts shaping the attempts, and (b) current-life family and sociocultural elements that influence Latinas to attempt suicide more often than their peers. The researchers will achieve these goals by interviewing girls 13 to 18 years, and their mothers or maternal-caregivers, from each racial/ethnic group. Together, teens and adults will offer viewpoints on individual and family functioning and suicide attempts.

This cross-ethnic exploration of plans, thoughts, methods, and expressions of suicide attempts will yield clues that explain the disparity and high burden of suicidal behaviors among Latina adolescents. Hypotheses generated by this project can provide the foundation for large-scale, mixed-method, longitudinal projects that can offer definitive answers to the suicidal disparities of Latinas; inform therapies; enhance measurement selection and development to study Latina suicidality; and influence health policy.

Funding for this project was made possible by GRANT #: R21 MD012338 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.