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The latest Youth Risk Behavior Study from the Center for Disease Control, published June 14, provides information on risk behaviors among Hispanic high schoolers in the U.S. using data collected in 2017. Thinkstock Image.

Hispanic youth experience higher levels of sadness, hopelessness, than their peers

Bryn Mawr College professor Carolina Hausmann-Stabile highlights two important takeaways from the latest Youth Risk Behavior Study from the Center for Disease…

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Every other year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) releases a report on youth risk behaviors, a nationally representative survey of high school students grades 9-12 that uses 124 questions to ask about different issues. It is “one of the reports that every three years allows us to take a pulse of what is happening with youth that are enrolled in schools,” said Carolina Hausmann-Stabile, a Bryn Mawr professor and researcher who has focused her work on pediatric suicide prevention since coming to work in the U.S. from her native country of Argentina in 2003.

The social worker and professor broke down what we can learn about mental health and suicide risk and prevention for Latino youth from this year’s report. Here are the top two takeaways:

1. There is a “sky high level of sadness and hopelessness among Hispanic youth,” especially for Hispanic females.

According to the report, Hispanic students had a higher prevalence than white and black students of the risk behavior of having felt sad and hopeless, which Professor Hausmann-Stabile said is concerning because those feelings can be strong predictors of suicide risk.

Hausmann-Stabile noted that this most recent report is significant because “it is the first time that we have data of what is happening for the wellbeing of minorities in this country after [Trump’s election]” — a context which she said has greatly affected the mental health of Latinos and other minorities in the U.S.

“We already have emerging evidence of the effects on the mental health of children and families that are struggling or have been targeted by the rhetoric or policies,” said Hausmann-Stabile, citing a report released in March from George Washington University which showed that the political context after Trump’s election and inauguration has been affecting the wellbeing and health of Latino immigrant families and their children.

Other reports have shown that “increase in rates of anxiety and depression are growing in populations that have been targeted,” Hausmann-Stabile said.

According to the report, 31.5 percent of students nationwide  at some point in the 12 months before taking the survey had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row and had stopped doing some usual activities. Overall, female students experienced a higher rate of having felt sad or hopeless at 41.1 percent compared to 21.4 percent for male students.

Across ethnicity and gender Hispanic females had the highest rate, as 46.8 percent — close to half — of all Latina high schoolers reported experiencing feelings of sadness at hopelessness.

2. Around 1 in 10 Latina adolescents attempt suicide. 

Of the Hispanic female adolescents surveyed, about 10.5 percent of the Hispanic female adolescents attempted suicide in the past year. This was the highest of categories by race and gender except for black females, 12.5 percent of whom reported attempting suicide.

Hausmann-Stabile noted that it was the first time in the history of the YRBS survey since it began in 1991 that black female high schoolers reported higher levels of suicide attempts than Latinas and white girls. The rates for both Latina adolescents and black females were significantly higher than the 7.3 percent of white females who reported having attempted suicide.

The rate for Hispanic female adolescents was also significantly higher than that of Hispanic males, at 5.8 percent.

According to Hausmann-Stabile, there are various reasons why Latina girls in particular are more at risk for feelings of sadness and hopelessness and attempted suicidal behavior, including some that are contextual and environmental.

“Latina girls are also telling us that they are more victimized sexually, and that they are more fearful of going to school because they have been assaulted at school or they have been threatened at school, or they have been bullied,” she said. “It speaks of a context of vulnerability.”

Hausmann-Stabile said that greater attention to gender and ethnicity-informed tools for suicide prevention is necessary.

“Prevention is a very nuanced issue because prevention needs to target the causes that result in suicidal behavior but as for the suicide behavior, are very complex phenomena, and the responses we have now, the tools we have, apply mostly for adult older men with chronic mental illness,” she added, explaining that in her work she is trying to “identify prevention that is both developmentally and gender-informed.”

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 free and confidential support in English or Spanish for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources.

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