The disparities in suicidal behavior among American 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 any other group of American adolescents. Even with three decades of surveys, no studies have systematically compared Latinas to other girls in order to understand the reasons Latinas? propensity to suicidal behavior. While family dynamics often account for the suicide attempts of adolescents, we do not know what the qualitative differences in Hispanic family dynamics that influence daughters to attempt suicide more than peers. What, if any, are the substantive differences with non-Hispanic peers? The overarching goal of this developmental/exploratory application is to deepen knowledge of the higher likelihood of Latinas toward suicide attempts (SAs) in contrast to non-Hispanic peers. We will examine the influence of family dynamics on suicidal behavior among Latinas, and contrast the reports of Latinas with those of non-Latina attempters. This study examines intensively family functioning of female suicide attempters of Latino, non-Hispanic White, and African American cultural heritage using in-depth interviews with the girls and the primary female caregiver. Twenty adolescent-caregiver dyads in racial/ethnic groups will be recruited to address two aims: (1) explore the psychological vulnerability of teenage suicide attempters in three racial/ethnic groups and the life contexts that influenced suicidal behaviors. Data on individual susceptibility, viz., emotional vulnerability, family factors, and life context, that girls in each racial/ethnic group indicate influenced the suicide attempts, including thoughts, meanings, and interpretations will generate testable hypotheses about underlying reasons that increase Latina teens? propensity to suicidal behaviors and why they choose this action; and (2) describe the life histories and trajectories of family dynamics that influenced the attempt for each racial/ethnic group. We will seek answers to such questions as, What are family-adolescent dynamics that shaped the suicidal behavior for each group? To what extent do Latinas? and caregivers? histories and trajectories differ from those of the two other racial/ethnic groups? This aim identifies variations in patterns of family dynamics and sociocultural elements that reveal differences in manifestations of suicide attempts across racial/ethnic groups. Achieving these two aims via this mechanism can set the stage for a larger study and inform preventive and intervention programs.

Public Health Relevance

/PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE For over two decades, national surveys have shown ethnic-racial disparities in suicidal behavior among female adolescents, especially among Latinas, but the reasons for the persistence of these disparities are not known. By comparing the reasons for the suicidal behavior of Latinas with those of African American and non-Hispanic White females, this study will help explain partially why the disparities exist. Findings will be useful to developing efficacious and effective interventions for the prevention of suicide among girls that will reduce disparities in suicidal behaviors.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Hunter, Deloris
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University of Texas Austin
Schools of Social Welfare/Work
United States
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