Familism, mother-daughter mutuality, and suicide attempts of adolescent Latinas.J Fam Psychol. 2010 Oct; 24(5):616-24.JF
National surveys in the U.S. reveal that Latina adolescents have higher rates of suicide attempts than females of other ethnic and racial groups. Past reports indicate that the suicide attempts among Latinas are lodged within family contexts in which sociocultural and individual experiences influence parental and adolescent behaviors. To better understand the parent-adolescent relations that explain the Latina suicidal phenomenon, we examined how the high value on family unity and support, as reflected by familism, and its effects on mother-daughter mutuality (i.e., reciprocal empathy and engagement) were evident in a group of adolescent Latinas with suicide attempts and a group of adolescent Latinas without suicide attempts. Drawing from data on 169 mother-daughter dyads recruited from Latino communities in a Northeastern metropolis and who self-identified as being of Latino origin or heritage, we considered how differences in familism between mothers and daughters influenced their sense of mutuality, the adolescents' internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and suicide attempts. Results show that gaps in familism (mothers scoring higher than their daughters on the scale) predicted less mother-daughter mutuality and more externalizing behaviors in the adolescents. Also, mother-daughter mutuality was negatively related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors which, in turn, predicted suicide attempts. Findings point to further research on family interactions that raise the risk for suicidality in Latino youth, particularly to including fathers and siblings in study designs. Clinical implications point to enhancing family and dyadic communication skills focusing mutuality while observing the cultural value of familism.