By Melissa A. Sullivan
Fresh off the heels of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, and as National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close on Friday, now is an appropriate time to examine the intersection of Latinx and suicide.
The 2020 Census revealed that Latinx are the second-fastest-growing demographic in America, second only to Asians. There are presently 62.1 million Latinx in the United States. While Latinx have experienced fewer rates of suicide compared to the national rate, the pandemic has the potential to make this historically immune population vulnerable to suicide in a way it has never been before.
To prevent Latinx from completing suicide, the unique and novel circumstances causing this population to be at risk must be understood and addressed. The increased risk factors Latinx are now facing include heightened emotional stress, additional financial strain, and the degradation of a once-solid familial support structure —all consequences of COVID-19.
Evidence of the pandemic’s disproportionate health and economic impacts on Latinx is alarming. Approximately half of Latinx surveyed for a study by the Pew Research Center reported that they or someone close to them has been negatively affected by the pandemic, with 52 percent saying “a family member or close friend was hospitalized or died from COVID-19.” Forty-nine percent stated that “they or someone in their household lost a job or took a pay cut since February 2020.”
Findings from the Center for American Progress show that Latinx are “1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19,” a staggering “4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19,” and “2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19” than White non-Hispanic individuals. Disparities in health care such as lack of access to primary care, COVID-19 testing accessibility, and vaccine availability contribute to these devastating outcomes.
Coupled with emotional stress, Latinx also bear the additional financial strains brought on by the pandemic. Latinx made up 23 percent of initial pandemic-related job losses. Unprecedented layoffs in the service and hospitality industries, where Latinx traditionally predominate, hit the community especially hard. Given the nature of these manual labor positions, Latinx cannot work from home or shift to virtual spaces as a large portion of the American workforce has over the last 18 months.
Quarantine closures, reduced operating hours and the loss of consumer confidence contribute to the high unemployment rate among Latinx, most notably Latinas. These economic hardships can lead to missed rent or mortgage payments, food insecurity, and an inability to earn a stable living wage to support a typically multi-generation household, increasing stress and strife within the family unit.
The hallmark of the Latinx community —strong multi-generation familial bonds— is also currently under significant threat due to the pandemic. The power of the Latinx domestic support structure has long been a cultural characteristic preventing the community from constituting a more substantial portion of the national suicide rate. An increase in pandemic-related emotional and financial tensions for Latinx has the potential to fracture their once sturdy suicide safety net.
It is imperative for Latinx to check in on their loved ones, utilize available digital mediums to connect, and be vigilant about the warning signs of suicide to maintain low pre-pandemic rates of suicide among Latinx. Changes in behavior, talking about or researching self-harm, or feelings of hopelessness, are the most common indicators of a suicidal tendency.
As a Latina hospitalized with COVID-19 who also lost a family member to suicide, I understand the particular nexus of these issues. Latinx are proud, resilient, and dynamic. We celebrate our culture by honoring one another. We must protect our community by continuing to forge the ties that bind us. ¡Adelante mi gente!
Melissa A. Sullivan is the spokesperson for a federal agency. She is a native Floridian of Costa Rican and Cuban descent and lives in Washington, D.C. with her partner.