08/22/2012 10:56 am ET

Ethnicity and Identity Play A Role In The Mental Health Of Young Latinas

When Norma Villalobos, 34, was a teen, she felt like she didn’t fit in. Her parents were born in Mexico and she was born in the U.S. She had a traditional Mexican upbringing. “It sets you apart from the rest of your classmates,” she says. She became depressed and developed an eating disorder. “I always wanted to fit the American ideal of being thin.” She felt like she couldn’t talk to her parents because they didn’t understand her. “If I was crying, they would say would say ‘stop with the craziness.’”

Villalobos experienced what is common for many young Latinas. Latina adolescents must not only deal with typical teenage problems, they must also navigate the role of their ethnicity in their identity. Their rates of depression and suicide are high. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 70% higher than for White girls in the same age group. Latinas in the United States had the highest reported rates, with 21 percent having seriously considered suicide, according to CDC.

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