First Advisor

Vikki Vandiver

Date of Publication

Spring 6-5-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




Hmong (Asian people) -- United States -- Ethnic identity, Hmong American teenagers -- Suicidal behavior, Suicide -- United States -- Cross-cultural studies, Asian Americans -- Cultural assimilation



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 121 pages)


This study examined psychological, social, and cultural factors that can affect suicide risk among Mong/Hmong youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Emerging evidence suggests that Mong/Hmong youth are at an increased risk for suicide (Huang, Lee, & Arganza, 2004; Jesilow & Xiong, 2007). Additionally, initial findings and theories have suggested potential associations between Mong/Hmong youth suicide risk and intergenerational family conflict, ethnic identity, acculturation, depression, and spirituality. The seriousness of suicide risk among Mong/Hmong youth in this country has been overlooked for decades; therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine these associations with the hope that the findings would be beneficial in future efforts to reduce suicide risk among Mong/Hmong youth.

This research was a cross-sectional exploratory study that used a purposive sampling method in addition to snowball sampling. The sample consisted of 165 Mong/Hmong youth between the ages of 18 and 25 from three California academic institutions. Results indicated that of 165 respondents, 59% (n=98) have had passing thoughts of suicide. There was a correlation between ethnic identity, intergenerational family conflict, depression, and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, ethnic identity and intergenerational family conflict were significant predictors of depression. Lastly, depression and having a belief in Mong/Hmong traditional spiritual and healing practices were predictors of suicide risk among the sampled population.

Two open-ended protective factor questions were explored to encourage participants to reflect on their resilience to suicide by sharing how they responded to thoughts of ending their life and what helped them to overcome those thoughts. Five themes were identified as protective factors: (1) having the cognitive ability to understand how death affects loved ones; (2) optimism and having a positive orientation toward the future; (3) connectedness with family, friends, and community; (4) having a sense of self-worth; and (5) a social life.

Implications for social work practice and policy include the development, expansion and delivery of culturally appropriate mental health treatment services for young adults. This entails the incorporation of traditional Mong/Hmong mental health healing practices into western mental health treatment, ongoing clinical research to better understand the mental health needs of the Mong/Hmong young adult population, and educating and empowering the Mong/Hmong community to access the mental health system, thereby reducing the stigma associated with mental health and increasing access to treatment.


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