NEW YORK—Life is Precious, a nonprofit suicide prevention program for Hispanic teens, met with elected officials and concerned families in front of City Hall Wednesday to raise awareness of what appears to be a growing problem.
According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey released June 8 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five Latino high-school girls nationwide has seriously considered suicide.
Beatriz Coronel, a program coordinator of Life is Precious, said she is familiar with the issue because her Ecuadorian mother attempted suicide when she was a teen.
“When they move to America, Latinas are isolated in many different ways,” Coronel said.
With a lack of communication, mental health resources, and culture shock, the problems young Latinas face today are the same as what women like her mother faced in past generations, Coronel said.
The number of females in grades 9 through 12 who have seriously considered suicide in the United States has risen 1.9 percent in the past two years, reaching a total of 19.3 percent in 2011—almost one in five female Latino students.
Latino females in the United States had the highest reported rates, with 21 percent having seriously considered suicide, according to CDC.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras said that some Latino households, lacking resources, put children as “front and center” to face serious issues—such as eviction— that would otherwise be shielded from children. The overwhelming responsibilities for young Latinos are contributing to higher rates of suicide attempts, she said.
Nationwide, 7.8 percent of Latino students had attempted suicide at least once in the 12 months before the survey. The attempted suicide rate was higher for females, at 9.8 percent, versus males, at 5.8 percent. Of Latino females, 13.5 percent had attempted suicide in the 12 months leading up to last year’s survey.
Councilwoman Ferreras said she was disturbed by the statistics because “these girls are our next doctors, our next council members. These … suicides affect a whole community.”
Life is Precious
Erin Mercado, 17, from the Bronx, has been hospitalized three times for attempted suicide. Her mother said she had trouble fitting in at school.
Mercado joined Life is Precious when she was 13. After doing art therapy activities such as dancing, drawing, and jewelry making, she doesn’t think about suicide anymore.
“There were a lot of kids my age with the same experience as me,” Mercado said.
Since the establishment of Life is Precious in 2008, Latina suicide attempts in New York have gone down slightly. The free program has enrolled a total of 120 girls who have either attempted suicide or seriously considered it. The program has two locations, in the Bronx and in Brooklyn.
Seventeen-year-old Jacqueline Rios, from Brooklyn, tearfully said that Life is Precious helped her get through depression. Without a specific organization or portal “Latino girls don’t feel confident to talk to someone about it,” she said.
Although the number of attempted suicides for females of Latino descent has increased slightly in New York state, there has been a slight decrease in attempts throughout the city’s boroughs.
Members of Life is Precious believe their work has contributed to these statistics. From 2009 to 2011, CDC data showed that the number of attempted Latina suicides dropped from 15.3 percent to 13 percent in the Bronx, and 21.6 percent to 11.6 percent in Brooklyn, Coronel said.
“It’s a slight decrease, but there is still an alarming number of Latinas that are attempting suicide,” said Councilwoman Ferreras.
Ideally, more suicide prevention branches are needed in every borough, Coronel said. However, since Life is Precious runs primarily on City Council funding, the organization is in danger of closing down.
The CDC data was obtained from a 2011 national survey, 43 state surveys, and 21 large urban school district surveys. The students surveyed were grades 9–12.
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