At the beginning of this decade, one-third of Texas’s population was made up of people of Hispanic or Latino descent, some 10 million people. That number is growing every day: by the middle of the century, Hispanics and Latinos are expected to make up approximately 60% of the state’s population. With that kind of growth, addressing potential mental health concerns among Hispanic Americans in the state is a pressing need, particularly in the context of suicide.
Although Hispanic suicide rates are lower than those of the overall U.S. population, given its ethnic makeup, Texas ranks second in the nation in Hispanic suicide attempts. The teenage Latina population in particular has a notably high suicide rate—close to double that of non-Hispanic youth and young adult females. Alarmingly, one in seven Hispanic girls living in the United States will attempt suicide after struggling with common factors, including culture, access to health care, family dynamics, language barriers, and poverty.
Mental Health America of Texas (MHAT)
In operation since 1935, Mental Health America of Texas (MHAT) is the state’s largest and longest-serving mental health education and advocacy group. The group has a strong advocacy and public policy system, along with outreach and suicide prevention resources, with a specific focus on their Hispanic and Latino constituencies. MHAT’s Texas Suicide Fact Sheet: Hispanic Americans – 2012 (PDF | 487 KB) notes some of the risk factors for suicide that apply specifically to members of that community, beyond those that are more broadly seen across all ethnicities, including mental health and substance use disorders. The Hispanic-specific commonalities include generational differences, beliefs, and customs—meaning disagreements among generations regarding lifestyle choices and personal issues that might erupt into family conflict; the stress of being recent immigrants; and reduced access to mental health assistance because of language barriers, cost of care, or perceived cultural exclusion.
At the same time, researchers have found that Hispanics often share protective factors against suicidal tendencies. Most notably, the strong sense of family and culture that are often to blame in creating unresolvable conflict and leading to suicide attempts might just as easily serve a positive role in preventing them. In addition to recognizing the importance of the family unit over the needs of the individual, along with strong family support, other protective factors against suicide include a general moral opposition to it among Hispanics; pride in ethnicity, which has been shown to result in a lower risk of drug use (a suicide risk factor); and being born outside the United States—Hispanic youths who were born elsewhere but live in the United States have a lower suicide attempt rate than those born here.
The Texas Youth Suicide Prevention Project
On a broader scale, MHAT implemented the Texas Youth Suicide Prevention Project, which was given the 2014 Innovation in Programming Award from Mental Health America for its zero suicide framework in the public mental health system. The project includes public awareness efforts; trained intervention instructors; best practices policies and procedures; statewide trainings at schools, on college campuses, and in communities; and the coordination of suicide prevention efforts among different communities. In addition, the group has distributed more than 1 million brochures and fact sheets in both English and Spanish, along with videos, newsletters, mobile apps, websites, social media, the Texas Suicide Prevention and Postvention Toolkit – 2015 (PDF | 11.7 MB), and the Texas State Plan for Suicide Prevention.
This article was originally published to highlight the February 2015 theme of Minority Behavioral Health Conditions. Learn about SAMSHA's suicide prevention efforts. Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.