The numbers are shocking: one in seven Latinas in the U.S. will make an attempt to take her own life.
It’s not widely known or reported, but young Latinas attempt suicide at much higher rates than girls in other ethnic groups. Today on the program, we try to understand why. We have invited Dr. Luis Zayas to join us and to serve as our guide. Zayas teaches in Saint Louis, at both the School of Medicine at Washington University and at its School of Social Work, where he founded and directs the Center for Latino Family Research. It’s the only one of its kind in the nation: a social research center dedicated to Latino health, mental health, and family & community development in the U.S. and in Latin America.
But each story of a Latina teen suicide attempt is a deeply personal story. So, on today’s program we meet Yanira — a young Dominican-American who lives in Harlem and who has struggled with depression—and repression—for years. Yanira’s life is a contradiction: she’s forced to act like an adult, while being denied the permission to do things that many ordinary teenagers can do.
Reporter Laura Starecheski takes us inside her story.
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Dr. Luis Zayas is the Professor of Psychology at the Washington School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the founder and director of the Center for Latino Family Research at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.
Professor Zayas’ clinical experience spans 25 years of working with children, adolescents, adults, and families working in community mental health, psychiatric clinics, pediatric rehabilitation, and community-based primary care medicine.
Zayas has been treating girls like Yanira for years, and he says that her situation is all too common. He believes that many suicide attempts by young Latinas are not necessarily born out of an actual desire for death; rather, it’s how these girls communicate their distress, their insufficient emotional well-being, the lack of open communication with their parents.
Zayas has been conducting a study of Latina girls, their families, and suicide. It’s groundbreaking research and has led him to say that he believes the root of the issue is the family members’ concept of sexuality, and the perceived strain on familial cohesion posed by the desire for teenage autonomy.
Listen to his extended interview with Maria.
Right click here to download an .mp3 of this segment