Mental Health for Latina Youth: The Need for Tailored Resiliency Interventions | Categories Emotional Health | DOI: 10.26054/0D-KVST-A0HE

Problem Statement

Mental health is a serious issue associated with reduced life satisfaction, shortened life expectancy, and higher rates of physical illnesses.1,2 Among adolescents, poor mental health significantly impacts long-term health behaviors, such as drug use or sexual behaviors.3 In the recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary and Trends Report for 2019, feelings of hopelessness and sadness increased among adolescents from 2009-2019 by 10% .4 The mental health and life outcomes of Latina adolescents is of particular concern as they have an increased risk of mental illness due to challenging experiences such as discrimination, violence, language and cultural barriers, academic challenges, and a lack of support.5,6 It is apparent that current programs and interventions do not meet the health needs of Latina adolescents as adolescent females reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness by almost double the percentage of adolescent males, and 40% of Hispanic students reported these feelings compared to 36% of White students and 32% of Black students.4 In an attempt to address these challenges and improve mental health outcomes, researchers have implemented several resiliency programs among immigrant and U.S.-born Latina/o adolescents, with the hope that resilience will strengthen their ability to adapt to change and deal successfully with life’s challenges.7 However, these resiliency programs often fail to account for differences in sex and gender (sex referring to biological characteristics and gender referring to personal identification) among Latino and Latina adolescents. This is a potential issue as researchers have found that sex and gender play a significant role in Latina adolescents’ future mental and physical health outcomes.8 Despite the overall success of resilience programs, without gender- and sex-specific research, many programs are likely inadequate in meeting the needs of Latina youth.

Status of Literature

In general, many types of programs exist to help develop and encourage resilience among youth. The first of these focuses on parenting. Studies have shown that effective parenting can prevent long-term adverse outcomes among children in many areas of life, such as substance use, mental health, physical health, and academics. A review of experimental parenting studies found that out of 22 programs reviewed, 20 had a significant impact on long-term outcomes up to 15 years after participation.9 School-based interventions have also been effective at increasing resilience. One such school program implemented a curriculum to help adolescents identify emotions and the appropriate response to emotions. Results showed that the curriculum was helpful, enhanced support and connection, and destigmatized mental health.10 Another common resilience intervention is mindfulness training. Mindfulness uses meditation to focus one’s mind on the present moment and teaches individuals how to regulate emotions. Researchers implemented one mindfulness program among Asian and Latina/o minority adolescents. Participants were randomized to take a 12-week training course either during the first or second semester of school. Results showed that the program reduced perceived stress, expressive suppression, avoidance and fusion, rumination, internalizing problems, externalizing problems, and attention problems.11 The last commonly used resilience intervention is a community-based approach. This involves studying the ecological factors surrounding an individual and responding appropriately to improve overall living conditions.12 One study found that resiliency programs often overlook structural barriers to resilience, even though understanding these barriers is crucial to the successful development of resilience.13

Currently, researchers have tailored only one resilience program to fit Latina youth. This program is known as Positive Youth Development (PYD). PYD emphasizes personal agency and focuses on youths’ strengths as a way to confront challenges.14 Researchers have used PYD to address various challenges faced by Latina youth, such as sexual identity, ethnic discrimination, and incarceration.15, 16 One study showed that PYD effectively strengthened resiliency attitudes and skills such as humor or creativity, measured through the use of the Resiliency Attitudes and Skills Profile (RASP).16

Call to Action

Researchers argue that minority females are frequently confronted with experiences of adversity and gender-based discrimination, requiring them to develop resilience .17 However, much of the literature on resilience among Latina/o adolescents is limited by not considering sex and/or gender differences.15 This limits the effectiveness of the programs and the subsequent development of resilience for Latina adolescents. Sex- and gender-specific research is needed to explore the impact that existing resilience programs have on Latina adolescents. Health professionals will then be able to refine resilience programs to better serve Latina adolescents. This could significantly improve their future mental and physical health outcomes.8


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2. Happell, B., Platania-Phung, C., Fellow Stephanie Webster, R., Scott, D., & Fellow, R. (2015). Applying the World Health Organization Mental Health Action Plan to evaluate policy on addressing co-occurrence of physical and mental illnesses in Australia. Australian Health Review39, 370–378.

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7. Peña, C., Jones, L., Orange, A., Simieou, F., & Márquez, J. (2018). Academic success and resiliency factors: A case study of unaccompanied immigrant children. American Journal of Qualitative Research, 2(1), 162–181.

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11. Fung, J., Kim, J. J., Jin, J., Chen, G., Bear, L., & Lau, A. S. (2019). A randomized trial evaluating school-based mindfulness intervention for ethnic minority youth: Exploring mediators and moderators of intervention effects. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(1), 1–19.

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13. Vesely, C. K., Letiecq, B. L., & Goodman, R. D. (2017). Immigrant family resilience in context: using a community-based approach to build a new conceptual model. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 9(1), 93–110.

14. Sanders, J., Munford, R., & Liebenberg, L. (2017). Positive youth development practices and better outcomes for high risk youth. Child Abuse and Neglect, 69, 201–212.

15. Craig, S. L., Austin, A., Alessi, E. J., Mcinroy, L., & Keane, G. (2017). Minority stress and HERoic coping among ethnoracial sexual minority girls: Intersections of resilience. Journal of Adolescent Research, 32(5), 614–641.

16. Parker, S. (2016). Impact of Positive Youth Development services on resilience among adjudicated girls.

17. Clonan-Roy, K., Jacobs, C. E., & Nakkula, M. J. (2016). Towards a model of Positive Youth Development specific to girls of color: Perspectives on development, resilience, and empowerment. Gender Issues, 33, 96–121.


Johnson JE, Gren LH, & Frost CJ (2021). Mental Health for Latina Youth: The Need for Tailored Resiliency Interventions. Utah Women’s Health Review. doi: 10.26054/0D-KVST-A0HE


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Lisa H. Gren, PhD, MSPH

Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah

Caren J. Frost, PhD, MPH

College of Social Work, University of Utah