Examining Emic and Etic Predictors of Suicide Risk in Latinos: Does Loneliness Add, Beyond Ethnic Identitiy, to the Prediction of Hopelessness and Suicidal Behaviors?

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Suicide represents a major problem for all members of society. Findings from studies have shown that suicide risk is among the highest in young adult populations. Although a variety of factors have been identified in trying to predict suicide risk in young adults, one variable that has received considerable attention has been social disconnectedness. For example, according to Joiner’s (2005) theory of suicide, being socially disconnected from others represents a critical factor that heightens a person’s risk for suicide. Consistent with this view, findings from numerous studies have shown a reliable association between loneliness and suicide risk (Hatcher & Stubbersfield, 2013). For example, Chang and his colleagues (Chang et al., 2015; Chang, Muyan, & Hirsch, 2015; Muyan & Chang, 2015) have found a reliable association between loneliness and greater suicide risk (e.g., hopelessness, suicidal behaviors) in diverse cultural groups. Indeed, in one study, Chang, Hirsch, Sanna, Jeglic, and Fabian (2011) found that loneliness was an important predictor of suicide risk in Latina college students. Although these findings are important and point to the potential value of loneliness as a predictor of suicide risk in diverse adult groups, they do not take into account more culture- specific variables. Accordingly, we conducted the present study to examine the extent to which culture- specific (emic) variables might play an important role in predicting suicide risk, and to also determine if the inclusion of a general (etic) explanatory variable would add to the prediction of suicide risk, namely, hopelessness and suicidal behaviors, in a sample of 155 Latino college students. We conducted a pair of regression analyses including demographic variables (viz., age & sex) in the First Step, ethnic identity variables (ethnic affirmation, ethnic identity achievement, ethnic behaviors, & other group orientation; Phinney, 1992) in the Second Step, and loneliness (Russell, Peplau, & Curtrona, 1980) in the final Third Step, in predicting hopelessness and suicidal behaviors. Results of these analyses for both outcomes indicated that demographic variables did not account for significant variance in suicide risk. However, ethnic identity variables, as a set, were found to account for a significant 11% of the variance in hopelessness, and a significant 10% of the variance in suicide behaviors. Noteworthy, the inclusion of loneliness was found to account for an additional 19% of unique variance in hopelessness, and an additional 13% of unique variance in suicidal behaviors. Taken together, our findings underscore the importance of considering both emic and etic factors in trying to identify variables that may place Latinos at heightened risk for suicide. Additionally, our findings also point to the potential value of targeting specific ethnic identity variables (e.g., ethnic identity achievement) as well as loneliness when working with Latinos at risk for suicide.


Boston, MA

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