Rep. Napolitano Hosts Summit On Latina Youth Mental Health
(Washington, DC) On September 11, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano, hosted a mental health summit entitled “Latina Youth Suicide Prevention: Stemming the Alarming Suicide Attempts” as part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Hispanic Heritage Month events.
Congresswoman Napolitano, who co-chairs the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, was joined by Dr. Luis H. Zayas, Ph.D, Dean of the University of Texas School of Social Work; Dr. Rosa Gil, Founder & CEO of Comunilife; Leon Rodriguez, Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); and Mia St. John, Mental Health Advocate and Former Boxing Champion. The panel discussed factors that contribute to young Latina suicide attempts and focused on available treatments.
“We have been working on Latina mental health for over a decade, and we knew then how critical it would be,” Napolitano said. “We must continue to de-stigmatize the issue and promote mental wellness in the Latina youth community and all communities, as it is an issue that affects us all.”
Napolitano is the author of H.R. 751, the Mental Health in Schools Act, which would provide grant funding for school districts and local mental health services providers to help students with mental health issues with on-site care and counseling.
Some panelists pointed to a lack of mentoring and support from family members as a cause of low self-esteem among Latina youth. The disconnected relationships between mothers and daughters, in particular, was mentioned as a large contributing factor of Latina youth suicide.
“Our girls talk about family crises, tensions, and dysfunctions that seem to be the triggers for a suicide attempt, not social rejection,” Dr. Zayas said. “There is a lot that can be done in family therapy. Raising levels of communication is key.”
“At Comunilife’s ‘Life is Precious’ treatment program, we provide Latina adolescents a safe and nurturing space, hope, and the tools to become self-confident to pursue their dreams,” Dr. Gil said. “We also provide a supportive environment for their mothers, fathers and siblings, as family is the core of Latino culture.”
The panel agreed that there is a large need for increased financing and attention for mental health programs. Representing HHS on the panel, Leon Rodriguez reiterated the Deparment’s focus on mental health care and the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
“We are taking steps in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” Rodriguez said. “We need to be sure that we are providing culturally sensitive care when addressing the health needs of the Latino community, especially surrounding the issue of suicide prevention.”
Realizing the lack of care for youth in her childhood, Mia St. John has been a tireless advocate for the Mental Health in Schools Act. “I wish there had been a program for mental health when I was in school,” St. John said. “I joined efforts with Rep. Napolitano because this is something we so desperately need.”
· Link to facts on the Mental Health in Schools Act: http://napolitano.house.gov/resources/additional-resources/mental-health-schools-act/facts-mental-health-schools-act
· In 2009, one out of every seven high school age Latina teens, or 14 percent, attempted suicide (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
· Latina school students have higher attempted suicide rates than white non-Hispanic (7.7 percent) or black non-Hispanic (9.9 percent) girls their age (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
· Suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 70% higher than for White girls in the same age group, in 2011 (Office of Minority Mental Health)
· Link to 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/national-strategy-suicide-prevention/full-report.pdf
· Mental illness costs the U.S. economy $193 billion a year in lost earnings (National Institute of Mental Health)
National Mental Health Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
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