After more than a decade of project-based collaboration, Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center and Progress High School have teamed up once again, this time to create a public awareness campaign designed to educate adolescent Latina girls about suicide prevention. According to a January 22, 2008 Washington Post article, “Latinas ages 12 to 17 are the largest minority group of girls in the country, and growing. They are more likely to try to take their lives than any other racial or ethnic group their age. Twenty-five percent say they’ve thought about suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 15 percent attempt it, compared with approximately 10 percent of white and black teen girls.”
To mark the kick-off of the campaign, students, physicians, administrators, elected officials and even a couple of Broadway stars filed into the halls of the Grand Street Campus to give speeches, share stories and congratulate one another on a job well done, shedding light on a very serious issue affecting the community.
“There is something very wrong in our society, and in the mental health of our young girls,” Councilwoman Diana Reyna said, addressing the crowd. “We have to open the lines of awareness that cross not just through our family lines, but across our neighborhoods. Our message must be heard loud and clear: There is help out there.”
Aiming to encourage young Latinas, struggling with suicidal thoughts, to seek appropriate help from suicide prevention resources in the community (including those at Woodhull), the new campaign consists of print ads, fliers and posters, to be displayed and distributed at different locations around the neighborhood, promoting peer and parental support, open communication and the names and numbers of local hotlines and clinics.
“This campaign is a call to action,” said Iris Jiménez-Hernández, Vice President of Woodhull Health Network. “We need to educate young Latinas about the devastating effects of suicide. We have worked tirelessly to secure funds for this program, designed by Latina teens for Latina teens, to save lives.”
In addition to having a long standing relationship with Progress, Woodhull actually has a school-based health center at the Grand Street Campus, and the brand new campaign was meticulously designed by physicians at Woodhull in close collaboration with Progress juniors, 36 of whom participated in three months worth of focus groups over the summer.
“We had meetings in a conference room and shared our opinions about how to prevent teens from doing bad things,” explained Andrea Chiqui, one of the participating 11th graders. “We mostly talked about how you can help a friend, how to tell them to keep going because there are people out there who love them. I’m really excited to be able to help other teenagers.”
The campaign was made possible by a grant from the New York State Office of Mental Health, and is based around a set of recent statistics revealing the urgency of the issue, as well as the necessity for awareness, outreach and resources.
“Every suicide is a terrible tragedy, and I enthusiastically support Woodhull Medical Center’s efforts to prevent suicide—especially within this particular community,” said Michael F. Hogan, PhD, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health. “Research over the past decade has demonstrated that approximately one-third of adolescent Latinas seriously contemplate suicide, a very high rate compared to other young people and the overall population. This awareness and education campaign is a perfect example of the concerted effort we must make to reduce the risk of suicide in New York State.”
Aside from posters and advertisements, the campaign includes a special public service announcement, written and recorded by Janet Dacal and Lin-Manel Miranda, stars of the Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights. Both were present at Wednesday’s ceremony, and said a few words.
“Why are we here? We are here because of a shocking statistic. What can we do? We can shine a light on the problems that exist in our community,” Miranda said. “I started writing ‘In the Heights’ when I was 19, because Washington Heights in the movies didn’t look like the Washington Heights I grew up in, which is much like this neighborhood. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Woodhull Medical Center on this important project targeting young Latinas. We have to reach out to each other, and look out for each other.”