Exposure to U.S. media and other cultural factors increases risk for suicide attempts among Dominican teens 

​Exposure  to U.S. cultural factors, including television, radio and other media, increases the chance of risky behaviors – such as suicide attempts, substance abuse, and sexual activity – among public high school students in the Dominican Republic, according to new study conducted by Juan Peña, assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and faculty affiliate at the school’s Center for Violence and Injury Prevention.

The study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Universidad Autonoma of Santo Domingo, the Ministry of Education, the Familia Sana Foundation and others, includes a nationally representative sample of Dominican youth attending public secondary schools (grades 9 to 12) across the D.R.

Some of the cultural factors assessed in the study include:
• Number of friends the Dominican youth have in the United States,
• Duration and frequency of time spent in the United States, and 
• Amount of time spent listening to U.S. radio and watching U.S. television

The study found that the more exposure DR teens had to U.S. culture the greater the risk of suicide attempts and other risky behaviors.

“The Dominican Republic does not have the type of data and systems that we have to understand youth risk behaviors,” says Peña, referring to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. “Through this study we are providing the Dominican Republic with new information specific to their adolescents that we hope will help them develop policies and prevention programs to reduce risky behaviors.  

Peña, along with Brown School MSW student Diana Chaves, recently presented the findings to faculty and students at the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo and representatives of the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Education. Joining them was Brown School Professor and CVIP affiliate Luis Zayas, who shared findings from his research in the area of Latina suicide attempts.

Peña also recently received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health for a follow up study that will compare youth in the Dominican Republic who participated in this study to those youth who will be surveyed in 2011.

Peña is also a faculty affiliate with the Brown School’s Center for Latino Family Research and the School’s Center for Mental Health Services Research.