More than one Latina teenager out of every five living in Brooklyn attempted suicide during 2009 – a rate that was almost twice the level just two years earlier, according to a new report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In New York City as a whole, one in seven young Latinas attempted suicide in 2009 – a substantially higher incidence than for the U.S. as a whole. Latina teens generally attempt suicide at rates far greater than their non-Hispanic counterparts – more than twice the rate of white youth in New York City (14.7% versus 6.2%) and 44% more frequently than teenage African-American girls (14.7% versus 10.2%).
"It is a great tragedy, and it gets worse every year," says Dr. Rosa Gil, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Comunilife, Inc. “New York City already had among the highest rates of Latina teen suicide in the nation.”
The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report for 2009 found that the levels of suicide attempts by Latina teenagers were also shockingly high in the City’s other boroughs: 15.3% in the Bronx, 16.5% in Staten Island, 12.2% in Queens and 11.7% in Manhattan.
In response to this rapidly growing epidemic, Comunilife created its Life is Precious suicide prevention program for Latina teens in 2008. Life is Precious addresses the unique cultural drivers – as well as the underlying psychological causes – of Latina teenage suicide. Unfortunately, loss of funding may force the program’s closure despite the obviously growing need for these targeted services.
First launched in the Bronx through a grant from the New York Community Trust, Life is Precious works with Latina teens who have either attempted suicide or expressed suicidal thoughts. During its first year and one-half of operation, Life is Precious was successful in preventing further suicide attempts by the almost 100 girls participating in the program.
A federal grant supported by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez allowed Comunilife to expand the Life is Precious program to Brooklyn, where it is partnering with Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center and other local service providers. Of the 200 adolescents younger than 18 seeking emergency help at Woodhull for suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts during 2008, 45% were Latinas.
“We find that culture is a major factor,” says Program Coordinator Beatrize Coronel. Unlike American families which often focus on fostering the hopes and dreams of their children, Hispanic culture frequently demands that children – particularly girls – put their responsibilities to family first. In poor, immigrant families, the pressures can be overwhelming. “Rather than go to school, you have to help out in the house, take care of your siblings or serve as a translator for mom,” explains Coronel. These demands then clash with the perceived norms of America’s youth-focused, consumer driven society, creating additional psychological pressures.
“We provide Latina adolescents - at risk of suicide - a safe and nurturing space, hope, and the tools to become self-confident, discover their ‘hidden treasures’, enjoy positive family relationships, improve their academic performance, pursue their dreams and become successful Latina women,” says Comunilife CEO Rosa Gil. “Life is Precious™ also provides a supportive environment for their mothers, fathers and siblings, as family is the core of Latino culture.”
“It helps you with your emotions and how to talk with your family,” said one program participant describing her experience with Comunilife’s Life is Precious™.
Comunilife is currently seeking ongoing funding from foundations, individual donors and government sources to support continued operation of the Life is Precious program.
Comunilife, Inc. will celebrate its 21st Anniversary as a leading provider of mental health, housing and social services to New York City’s most vulnerable at its "All Lives are Precious” Corporate Breakfast on Friday, October 29, 2010 at 8:00 am, 230 Fifth Avenue Penthouse (26th-27th Streets), New York City. For information about the Breakfast, contact Dr. Rosa Gil, Comunilife, 212-219-1618 or