Abstract: Latina Immigrant Mothers Creating Solutions for Preventing Suicide Among Their Adolescents (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Latina Immigrant Mothers Creating Solutions for Preventing Suicide Among Their Adolescents

Thursday, January 12, 2023
North Mountain, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Tatiana Villarreal-Otalora, PhD, Assistant Professor, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA
Lauren Gulbas, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background and Purpose: For the last three decades, suicide has been identified as a significant threat to the well-being of Latino adolescents in the United States. Several national mental health organizations have called for increasing family involvement in suicide prevention efforts. Yet, researchers seldomly engage Latino caregivers in suicide prevention research, and their perspectives are rarely integrated into suicide prevention interventions. To promote Latino immigrant caregivers’ engagement in suicide prevention, this qualitative study explored how Latina immigrant mothers envision suicide prevention programming, implementation, and design.

Methods: The qualitative study was the second part of a two-phased mixed-method sequential nested design focusing on Latino immigrant caregivers’ suicide-related communication. We used a purposive sampling approach to identify Latina immigrant caregivers who had completed Phase 1 of the project (an online survey) and reported that they had not participated nor heard of a suicide prevention program in their community (N = 84). The primary investigator called each possible participant and personally invited them to participate in an in-depth qualitative interview via Zoom. Forty-six expressed willingness to participate, and of those, 22 participated in a semi-structured qualitative interview. We used a thematic approach to analyze the interview data, which was divided into (1) structural coding; and (2) inductive coding. Both data collection and analysis were conducted in Spanish.

Results: Three broad themes describe participants’ perception of culturally responsive suicide prevention programming: (1) Engaging the Community via a Multi-Step Effort in Culturally Relevant Spaces; (2) Providing Psychoeducation in Culturally Meaningful Ways; and (3) Offering Tangible Takeaways. While the participants wanted to be involved in suicide prevention, they voiced signification anxiety-related to the topic. From this emotional stance, participants suggested starting in a non-threatening manner by focusing primary prevention efforts on adolescent well-being, then transitioning towards secondary-level prevention through brief psychoeducational workshops centered on the issue of adolescent suicide. Participants recommended that both levels be disseminated in culturally relevant spaces, including social media platforms, community-serving agencies, and ethnic marketplaces. At the secondary-level, participants reported wanting information on suicide warning signs and ways to start a conversation regarding the topic. Participants discussed the importance of providing tangible takeaways after each psychoeducation session, demonstrating a strong commitment to being active change agents in both their families and communities. For example, participants urged that the program provide participants with skills and assignments to use at home with their families and a copy of the program for them to share with their loved ones.

Conclusions and Implications: Few suicide prevention and intervention programs have been developed and tailored specifically to the experiences of the Latino immigrant community. By examining and organizing the voices of Latino immigrant mothers, this study takes an essential first step toward prioritizing caregivers as agents of change and recognizing their role in the fight against adolescent suicide. Importantly, our findings provide important implications for social work research and practice, including a cautious and gentle introduction to the term “suicide” in prevention efforts and targeted strategies to facilitate the identification and mitigation of suicide-risk warning signs.