Suicide Prevention: Why Latinos Face Unique Challenges

Suicide is a serious public health issue that continues to claim thousands of lives each year.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), an estimated 1 million suicide attempts occur each year, many requiring medical attention.

The AFSP reported that 41,149 Americans took their lives in 2013, the most recent year for which full data is available.

“When it comes to the high risks of suicide prevention, depression, anxiety and substance abuse, it is important to understand that Latinos face very unique challenges”, says expert in Integrative Medicine, Dr. Joseph Mosquera, M.D.

“Among these challenges is the lack of access to mental health services combined with a cultural tendency to hide these symptoms due to a sense of embarrassment.”

Research done in 2008 by the Washington University in St. Louis found that Latinas are particularly affected, with one in every three high school Latino females seriously thinking about committing suicide. This is an especially alarming statistic.

According to a survey by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Hispanics born in the United States have higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts than Hispanic immigrants.

“This may be due to the higher amount of family and social pressures placed upon these men and women”, says Dr. Mosquera.

Men often suffer from anxiety, depression and substance abuse that is related to their levels of both, education and socioeconomic status.

“We need a much better system that provides access to proper healthcare. Only one to two percent of all psychiatrists/psychologists in the U.S. are Latino, despite one in five U.S. residents being Latino. As a result, many turn to their primary care doctor for help and often don’t receive it due to lack of access, health insurance and communications issues”, Dr. Mosquera added.

It is important for families and communities to have frank conversations regularly with young Latinos, particularly young Latinas, to discuss anxiety and especially depression, which if not treated, can lead to higher rates of suicide attempts.

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

People who take their own lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk. Three key factors to watch are behavior, talk and mood, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Talk

If a person talks about: Uses ultimatums in regards to killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, and/or unbearable pain.

Behavior

A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change. This could be in the form of increased use of alcohol or drugs, acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and/or even giving away prized possessions.

Mood

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods: Depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability, humiliation, and/or anxiety.

Suicide Prevention Starts With Awareness

People thinking about suicide often show warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. Here are some to look out for:

  • Poor grades
  • Sleeping excessively
  • Not grooming properly
  • Family history of mental illness

The best way to access help is to call a local medical center that is affiliated to an outpatient mental health clinic. Medical schools around the country often have clinics that have bilingual staff that will be able to provide help for mental illnesses.

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