Updated: Dec 20, 2019
The public health importance of Latina adolescent suicidal behavior is apparent when considering Latinos are the largest nonmajority ethnic group in the United States, projected to comprise 24% of the population by 2050 (U.S. Census, 2002). Mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, increase risk of suicidal behavior for Latina adolescents and for other adolescents (Duarte-Velez & Bernal, 2007; Foley, Goldston, Costello, & Angold, 2006; Gould et al., 2004). In addition to individual-level factors, evidence is increasing that risk of suicidal behavior is influenced by social-ecological factors.
An adolescent’s relationships with peers, family, and adults outside of the family are emerging as factors influencing risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. For example, attempt rates are higher in adolescents who report lower peer emotional sup- port (Borowsky, Resnick, Ireland, & Blum, 1999). Having fewer social networking opportunities and weaker friendship ties have also been linked to suicidal behaviors, particularly for female adolescents (Bearman & Moody, 2004; Roberts & Chen, 1995). Differences between boys and girls in suicidal behavior may be attributable to divergence in socialization processes, including with peers. For example, higher expectations for peer relationships may heighten females’ vulnerability to relationship losses (Allgood- Merten, Lewinsohn, & Hops, 1990).
In addition to peer network characteristics, peer behaviors are also influential in adolescents’ risk of suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior of peers, in particular, is associated with elevated risk of suicidal ideation and behavior. For both male and female adolescents, studies in the literature report that if a member of an adolescents’ peer friendship group attempted suicide, the remaining peers have an increased likelihood to attempt as well (Bearman & Moody, 2004; Joiner, 2002), and the relative risk of dying by suicide after a suicide death in one’s social sphere has been reported as two to four times higher among 15 to 19 year olds than for other age groups (Gould, Wallenstein, & Kleinman, 1990).
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