New book on Latina teen suicide attempts uncovers reality behind grim statistics

Personal stories, a lifetime of research is a must-read for parents, teens and teachers

Luis Zayas’ commitment to U.S. Latinas and their struggle with suicide started in the 1970s when he encountered the pain and suffering that the teenage girls and their parents were experiencing during his work in emergency rooms and mental health-care clinics.

“Latinas have the highest rate of suicide attempt among teens in comparison to white girls or African-American girls,” says Zayas, PhD, the Shanti K. Khinduka Distinguished Professor of Social Work at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Zayas brings compelling personal stories and nearly 40 years of research to his new book, Latinas Attempting Suicide: When Cultures, Families and Daughters Collide, published by Oxford University Press.

Zayas, also a professor of psychiatry at the WUSTL School of Medicine, examines the reasons behind the high rate of Latina suicide attempts and looks at the cultural pressures faced by U.S. Latina teens and their families.


“This book offers clinical information, but it also offers a way of identifying, thinking about and understanding why the girls feel so distressed as to make the attempt,” Zayas says.

“As one girl said to us, one of the reasons she had cut herself in a suicide attempt was because she wanted to ‘let out endless words’ because she had so much in her that had been stored up, that by cutting herself all those words would come out.”

This book is a valuable resource for teenagers, their families and educators.

“I think Hispanic families especially will find this book very valuable,” he says.

“What I’ve tried to do is explain their daughters’ side of the picture, but I’ve also tried to explain to the daughters their parents’ side of the picture so that they can understand why their parents hold on to certain values and beliefs and expectations of them in the home.

“It’s also important for immigrant parents with now-American daughters to understand the differences in the way their daughters’ teenage years occur versus the way their parents’ teenage years were back in the home country.”

Zayas says that one of the key findings in his research is that the greater the level of emotional attunement and understanding between the daughter and her parents, the less likelihood of a suicide attempt.

“It tells us that parents and youth need to talk more to one another, and then that’s one way that we can reduce the chance of a suicide attempt,” he says.

Zayas’ book is available at most bookstores and online retailers.