Latina teen suicide rate sparking concern

CNN's story on the issue begins with the story of twelve-year-old Francisca Abreu, who was so distraught she contemplated suicide. Her mother had no idea Francisca was in serious trouble until her school called. Such a disconnect between mothers and daughter is contributing to a alarming number of suicidal Latina teenagers.

The CDC says that one out of every seven Latina teens (14%) attempts suicide. That's almost double their white counterparts and 5% more than black girls.

Dr. Luis Zayas, a psychologist at Washington University who has spent the last 25 years trying to find the reasons behind these startling stats, says that the typical Latina teen who attempts suicide is 14 or 15, the daughter of immigrant parents, lives in a low-income setting and is caught in an intense battle with her mother over the distance between Latino and American cultures.

The issues arise when parents hold strictly to traditional Latino values which seem at odds with the American model of what girls should and can do. While their Americanized friends are hanging out, the daughters of immigrants are expected to stay at home, learn how to cook and clean the house.

"I did want to do what I want, be outside, not too late, but be outside period. Be able to go to the pool, regular stuff like other kids," Francisca recalls. Instead, her mother restricted her time outside the home.

Zaya is nearing completion of a five-year study of more than 200 Latina teens in NYC, many of whom have attempted suicide, and has found that this chasm between mothers and daughter is driving many of the Latinas he has studied to the brink.

"Teenagers have certain freedoms; they don't need to consult with their parents to make certain decisions," Zayas says. "That's the culture that's here, and inserted in that is the Latino family that says the family is much more important than the individual."

As a result, many Latinas feel trapped between two worlds whose value systems are at odds with one another, and the result is often deep depression that in a growing number of cases leads to suicide attempts.

Some are going so far as to make a connection between these family and value system conflicts to the alarming teen pregnancy rates among this ethnic group. Latinas have the highest rate of teen pregnancy and births among their peers. When there is a disconnect in the home, the girls are finding solace in the arms of boys. There are no studies to support these theories but the relationship doesn't appear far-fetched.

The alarming stats demonstrate just how serious generational gaps can be, and indicate that more action needs to be taking around suicide prevention in ethnic and particularly immigrant communities. You can help!