Latino adolescents have among the highest rates of functionally impairing depressive symptoms, including the highest rates of suicidal behavior. A significant and growing percentage of Latino youth live in poverty, which further increases their risk for depressive symptoms. Although coping skills programs have proven beneficial for preventing or reducing risk for depressive symptoms, low-socioeconomic status (low-SES) Latino youth have among the lowest rates of utilization of conventional mental health services, greatly limiting the effectiveness of these coping programs for this population. Thus, these youth could benefit from alternative approaches to prevention and intervention. A key first step in improving prevention efforts involves the identification of indigenous, accessible, and culturally acceptable processes that support coping and reduce risk for depressive symptoms. Bilingual language development is one such factor that is highly prevalent, but occurs at varying levels of exposure, usage, and proficiency, in low-SES Latino youth. Bilingualism supports the development of executive function (EF), and higher EF has been linked to more adaptive coping and lower levels of depressive symptoms. However, no research has examined associations between bilingualism and depressive symptoms in Latino youth. Therefore, the purpose of the current R03 is to examine the link between degree of bilingualism and the development of depressive symptoms, as well as the potential mediators (EF and coping) of this link, in a sample of low-SES Latino adolescents. We will assess degree of bilingualism, EF, coping and depressive symptoms at baseline and 12 months later in 80 bilingual Latino youth ages 10-13 years old. We focus on this age range because levels of depressive symptoms spike by middle adolescence, making early adolescence a crucial period for prevention and early intervention. Assessments will include youth and parent reports of all variables as well as testing of youth language proficiency and EF.
The Specific Aims of the proposed project are to 1) determine the prospective association between degree of bilingualism and development of depressive symptoms over one year in low-SES Latino youth, and 2) assess executive function and coping as potential mediators of the association between bilingualism and development of depressive symptoms over one year. The successful completion of this project will lead to a multi-wave, multi-site R01 proposal to identify pathways from bilingual language development to mental health outcomes in a diverse population of youth. The long-term goal of this line of research is to reduce disparities in depressive symptoms and their health consequences affecting low-SES Latino adolescents and similar high-risk, underserved youth populations.

Public Health Relevance

Latino adolescents experience disproportionate rates of depressive symptoms and related negative health consequences, including suicidal behavior. Conventional mental health services lack effectiveness for preventing and reducing risk for depressive symptoms in Latino youth. Identifying indigenous, accessible, and culturally acceptable developmental processes that support mental health, such as bilingualism, will improve prevention efforts for this high-risk, underserved population.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Biobehavioral and Behavioral Sciences Subcommittee (CHHD-H)
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Alvarez, Ruben P
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University of Texas Austin
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United States
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