The suicide rate among Latinos skyrockets: children under 12 years of age are the most affected by this crisis

If you yourself or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the Suicide and Crisis Prevention Line 988, calling or texting “988”.

DALTON, Ga. – A diverse age group, from teenagers to seniors, gathered in an office inside a supermarket, where food signs in Spanish appeal to the large Hispanic population in this northwest Georgia city, dominated by carpet industry.

The conversation, moderated by community leader América Gruner, focused on mental health and suicide. A dozen people come to the Tuesday night meetings and, sitting on furniture transformed into improvised chairs, share their emotional stories.

Gruner formed the support group in 2019 after three Latinos between the ages of 17 and 22 committed suicide in this city, in a period of two weeks.

“We couldn’t wait for the investigation,” said Gruner, founder and president of the Latino Leaders Coalition. “We wanted to do something about it.”

A small group meets in a supermarket office in Dalton, Georgia, in mid-November, to discuss mental health and suicide in this large Latino population.Andy Miller/)

The suicide rate among Hispanic people in the United States has increased significantly in the last decade. The trend worries community leaders: even Hispanic school children have tried to harm themselves or expressed suicidal thoughts.

Community leaders and mental health researchers say the pandemic hit Hispanic youth especially hard. Immigrant children are often expected to take on more responsibilities when their parents do not speak English, even when they themselves do not speak the language well.

Many live in poorer households with some or all family members undocumented. Cultural and language barriers can prevent them from seeking care, in a mental health system whose access to services is already complex.

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“Being able to talk about painful things in a language you are comfortable with is a very specific type of healing,” said Alejandra Vargas, bilingual Spanish program coordinator at the Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Los Angeles. “When we take calls in Spanish, you can feel that relief on the other end of the line,” she said. “Like: ‘Yes, they will understand me.’”

Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 2022 shows a record of nearly 50,000 suicide deaths for all racial and ethnic groups.

But grim statistics from KFF show that the increase in the rate of suicide deaths has been most pronounced among communities of color: From 2011 to 2021, the suicide rate among Hispanics rose from 5.7 per 100,000 people to 7.9 per 100,000 , according to data.

For Hispanic children ages 12 and younger, the rate increased 92.3% from 2010 to 2019, according to a study published in the Journal of Community Health.

Is a problem that repeats itself from coast to coastboth in urban and rural communities.

The Children’s Institute, a Los Angeles-based social services organization with a primarily Latino clientele, has reported a significant increase in emergency room visits and hospitalizations among youth due to risky behaviors and suicidal thoughts, Diane said. Elias, vice president of behavioral health at the institute. She said children as young as 8 have had to be hospitalized for trying to hurt themselves.

In Georgia, home to a growing Hispanic population, the suicide rate increased 55% from 2018 to 2022, according to the state Department of Public Health. Ser Familia, a social services organization in the Atlanta metropolitan area, said it has seen alarming numbers of Hispanic children who say they have suicidal thoughts.

“Our children are performers, they pay bills, they go to doctor’s appointments,” which adds additional stress and anxiety, said Belisa Urbina, executive director of Ser Familia.

Suicide rarely has a single cause; Many factors can increase the risk. They may include a previous suicide attempt, a breakup or loss, a history of depression or other mental conditions, financial or employment problems, lack of access to health care and social isolation, said Robin Lee, who leads the Applied Sciences Area at the CDC Division of Injury Prevention.

Mental health experts say there are many social and economic pressures on minority groups. For Hispanics, cultural and systemic obstacles can also play a role.

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According to the Latino Community Fund Georgia, stress linked to immigration status has caused an increase in mental health problems. “Not feeling like you belong and not knowing what the future holds” can create feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, said Vargas, the mental health worker in Los Angeles.

A study of 547 Latino adolescents ages 11 to 16 found that detention or deportation of a family member was associated with significantly higher odds of suicidal thoughts.

“Waves of immigrants are arriving who are minors, displaced and sometimes without immediate caregivers,” Elias said. “This can put a considerable burden on children. They are minors, and they are expected to balance self-financing and earning money to support the family or help them immigrate to the United States.”

Lack of access to mental health care is an issue for all segments of society, especially since the start of the pandemic. But minorities face additional economic and social obstacles, said Maria Oquendo, former president of the American Psychiatric Association and a suicide researcher.

Nirmita Panchal, senior policy analyst at KFF, said children of color “may not have culturally sensitive mental health screenings, and their mental health symptoms may be mischaracterized as dysfunctional behaviors.”

Language also remains a significant barrier.

“In Georgia, we have a tremendous need for bilingual mental health providers,” said Pierluigi Mancini, president and CEO of the Multicultural Development Institute, a Georgia-based consulting organization.

Gruner, who established the Latino support group in Dalton, said he only knows of three bilingual providers in that area. The city is in Whitfield County, where more than a third of the 100,000 residents are Hispanic.

And the prejudice can add another obstacle.

A recent Rand Corp. study, which used a “secret shopper” process, found evidence of potential discrimination during the process of scheduling a mental health appointment in California. About 1 in 5 calls in Spanish ended with the programmer hanging up the phone or informing the customer that there was no one available who spoke Spanish to help them.

Mental illness may also be culturally considered taboo among many black and Hispanic people. (Hispanics can be of any race or combination of races.)

“There is a belief that men shouldn’t seek help, they should solve their problems themselves,” said Francisco, 55, who participates in Dalton’s support group and attempted suicide as a teenager.

attended the session where he and others spoke, using only their first names for privacy reasons.

To address the mental health crisis, the federal government, together with the states, introduced, in 2022, the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Line 988, for people to connect with a crisis counselor and other resources.

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In July, it added a Spanish text and chat service for 988, but a spokesperson for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration acknowledged that more needs to be done to connect with at-risk communities.

Across the country, mental health professionals, researchers and Hispanic leaders point to several ways to reduce suicide.

It is crucial that more funding be allocated for mental health in general, including prevention programs that address cultural, legal and language needs, said Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor and researcher at New Mexico State University.

For now, some local leaders are filling the gaps by doing community work, for example organizing support groups for the Hispanic population.

Miguel Serricchio, from Santa Clarita, California, facilitates bilingual support groups for people whose lives have been shaken by suicide. His son Alex, who was dealing with anxiety, took her own life in 2016 after breaking up with his girlfriend.

“I wanted to spread the word,” Serricchio said.

Gruner, 64, who was born in Mexico City, hears from people in his weekly support group who have thought about suicide, attempted it or worry about their children doing the same.

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During the meeting attended by , a woman named Angela said her three daughters had anxiety and depression. “One of them told me that she suffers because we are immigrants,” she said. Another attendee, Katherine, 16, highlighted, among other factors, the unstable living conditions. For a while, she said, “we struggled to find a home. “We shared rooms with other families,” she said. Her friend Alejandro, also 16, said he has struggled with suicidal thoughts after his grandmother’s death and hearing arguments between his parents.

Vargas said that young people look for honesty and not to be judged. They don’t want adults to dismiss their problems, simply telling them that they will “get over it.”

“Although the topic of suicide can be really scary or disturbing, when someone comes to you and tells you that they are thinking about suicide, it can be a really wonderful moment, of beautiful hope,” Vargas said. “That opening is an opportunity to connect and support each other”.

This story was produced by KFF Health News, a national newsroom focused on in-depth coverage of health issues, which is one of the main programs of KFFthe independent source for health policy research, polling and journalism.