HISTORY & MISSION
Established in 2008 by Dr. Rosa Gil, the Life is Precious™ (LIP) Latina Suicide Prevention program is a project of Comunilife, a leading nonprofit housing, health and human services agency serving NYC's Hispanic community since 1989.
Young Latinas have become the teen population with the highest rate of suicide attempt in the country. At Life is Precious™, we combine individual and group counseling, creative arts therapy, academic support, music, nutrition & wellness activities and family services. Psychiatric services are provided by partnering clinics.
A LETTER FROM DR. ROSA GIL
For 15 years, Comunilife’s Life is Precious™ (LIP) program has helped Latina teens at risk of suicide. In New York State, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Latina teens and in NYC 18.5% of Latina teens seriously considered suicide in 2019, a percentage higher than their peers.
When we first thought about developing LIP, our first question was “why”. Why is suicide ideation and attempt more prevalent among Latina teens? Research shows that family conflict, stress, domestic/sexual abuse, academic failure, and bullying; coupled with the stigma of mental illness and the lack of culturally competent mental health providers are contributing factors.
Since LIP opened, our goal has been to provide activities that the teens and their families felt would be most helpful. Our community informed approach resulted in activities that include academic support, creative arts therapies, music, health/wellness activities and family services. We understood from the beginning that for the program to be a success it was necessary to break the barriers that stopped families from accessing mental health care.
LIP is unique for so many reasons, from how the program was developed and the services we provide, to our goal of having the program be accepted as a community defined, evidenced model of care by SAMHSA. What started as one center in the Bronx has now grown to centers in Brooklyn, Queens, and Washington Heights, Manhattan. With funding from the NYS Office of Mental Health, LIP expanded beyond the borders of NYC with new centers in Poughkeepsie and Yonkers, both of which are opening in January 2023.
LIP’s motto “Survive, Thrive and Strive” exemplifies the program’s goals. When a teen enters a LIP, she is met by a knowledgeable and empathetic staff of professional young Latinas. Once there, she receives tutoring to improve her academic performance; takes part in creative arts therapy to work through their emotions using art, music, movement and poetry; increases her self-esteem by improving their sense of self-worth; and opens lines of communication with her family. Our teens are given the hope to imagine a future full of possibilities and the tools to achieve them.
Even before COVID, Latina teens faced a unique set of challenges with regard to mental health including the stigma surrounding mental illness, Hispanic cultural norms of not discussing issues outside the family, acculturation stress and limited access to culturally competent mental health providers. COVID exacerbated these issues, adding an extra level of social and economic stress due to: Social isolation, Overcrowding, Unemployment, Inability to access financial relief due to immigration status, Housing and food insecurity, Inadequate remote learning opportunities, Elevated numbers of COVID related illness and fatalities, Increased lack of outpatient mental health capacity; and Lack of bilingual/bicultural mental health providers.
Researchers from the NYS State Psychiatric Institute/Columbia University - NYS Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence have completed Phase Two of an LIP evaluation - control groups - where suicide ideation and depression levels among Latina teens who attend LIP were compared to Latina teens who only received traditional therapy at outpatient mental health clinics. Early findings show that, over a 12 month period, the Latina teens who also participated in Life is Precious™ had greater improvement than control group participants in outpatient mental health clinics on the SIQ (Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire) were statistically significant.
In the last fifteen years, more than 500 girls, ages 12 to 18, have received services at LIP and not one has completed suicide!
Rosa M. Gil, DSW
Founder, President & CEO