Document Type



Final Published Version

Publication Title

American Journal of Orthopsychiatry



Publication Date



To date, there is little research to validate empirically differences between nonsuicidal self-injurious behavior (NSSI) and attempted suicide among Latina adolescents. Understanding the characteristics and contextual features of self-harmful behaviors among Latina teens is a critical public health and social justice matter given the disproportionate rates of attempted suicide and anticipated population growth of this vulnerable group. In this article, we draw on an ecodevelopmental model to focus attention on factors in the sociocultural environment that shape suicidal behaviors and NSSIs. Through analysis of qualitative interviews conducted with girls who used NSSI (n ! 18), attempted suicide (n ! 29), used NSSI and attempted suicide (n ! 8,) and had no reported lifetime history of self-harm (n ! 28), we describe the sociocultural factors that shaped psychosocial vulnerabilities and gave rise to decisions to use NSSI or attempt suicide. Our analysis revealed that adolescents who engaged in NSSI perceived their negative feelings as something that could be controlled through self-injurious acts, whereas powerlessness was a theme underlying the emotional states of girls who attempted suicide. When NSSI ceased to function as a mechanism for control, girls came to sudden decisions to attempt suicide. Most teens identified specific, and often multiple, situations that induced intense affective states and shaped decisions to inflict self-harm. Two situational experiences emerged as particularly salient and promising for subsequent studies on self-harmful behaviors among Latina adolescents: transnational stress and bullying. We describe each of these and offer suggestions for future research and practice.


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