The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Latina Youth Suicide: Understanding Why?

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Erika Ruiz, MSSW, Social Worker, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Marcella Tanya Smith, MSW, Adjunct Instructor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Regina T. P. Aguirre, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Purpose: It has been more than a decade since epidemiological studies have reported that Latina youth have the highest rate of suicide behavior in comparison to their non-Latino counterparts (e.g. African America and Non-Hispanic Whites). Among Latinas ages 10 to 25, suicide is the second leading cause of death.  According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS), a greater number of Latina youths (13.5%) reported that they attempted suicide in than other racial and ethnic counterparts (YRBS, 2011). The purpose of this study is to use YRBS risk data to identify risk factors that predict Latina risk for suicidal behavior. If identified, these risk factors can inform culturally competent suicide prevention efforts.

Method: This study utilized the YRBS, an epidemiological survey that utilizes a three-stage cluster sample design and a national purposive sample of respondents (n=15,425) from all public, Catholic, and private schools. For the purposes of this study, we only utilized respondents who identified themselves as Latina females (n=2363). Variables included demographic characteristics (e.g., age, ethnicity, race, gender) and health-risk behaviors (e.g., sexual behaviors, the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and unhealthy dietary behaviors). The variables selected to be included in this multiple regression model were based on suicide risk factors identified in the broader body of suicide research—typically drawn from studies with majority White participants. The entry method for the Regression used was  “Enter” as this is the most conservative (Brace, Kemp, & Snelgar, 2006). There were three models tested before a statistically significant regression was identified.

Result: Twenty percent (n = 474) of the participants reported they had ever considered suicide, 16.2% (n = 381) had made a suicide plan, and 13% (n = 270) attempted suicide at least once within the past 12 months. The Regression model was statistically significant  (p < .001) with three predictors explaining 21% of the variance. These predictors included suicide behavior, violence, and physical weight control.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that suicide behavior, exposure to violence and weight control are important factors to consider for Latina suicide prevention. However, given the 20% of variance explained, the findings also indicate that the risk behaviors assessed in the YRBS are not sufficient to predict suicidality among Latina youth. Application of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide will be used to explain possible missing elements in the survey and recommend items to be added to better assess suicide risk for youth—not just Latinas—taking this survey. This information could lead to better understanding of youth suicide risk and, ultimately, more effective youth suicide prevention.