Bringing a problem to light

  • Candles and flowers sit on the rock wall on Alii Drive during the Prevent Suicide West Hawaii Task Force’s 2012 candlelight vigil, held in conjunction with National Suicide Awareness Week. (Stephens Media Hawaii/file photo)

KAILUA-KONA — With suicide the leading cause of fatal injury in Hawaii, a local advocate is looking to get the community talking about the difficult issue.

Keeping silent about suicide makes matters worse, said Zahava Zaidoff, a substance abuse and mental health counselor and prevention specialist. The silence surrounding mental health often causes people seeking help to feel overwhelmed.

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The taboo nature of suicide prevents people from pinpointing and improving the issue.

“You can’t solve a problem you can’t name,” Zaidoff said, referring to the problem’s name as, “hopelessness.”

To combat feelings of hopelessness, Zaidoff stressed the importance of instilling meaning in others’ lives by fostering relationships and engaging in activities, as well as through general promotion of a kind and caring society.

“Give a hug, go volunteer,” she said.

To raise awareness about the suicide epidemic, Zaidoff is inviting the community to a one-night screening of “Suicide, The Ripple Effect.”

The hard-hitting documentary follows the journey of Kevin Hines, a suicide survivor who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge at age 19. It highlights the promise of hope, recovery, and the ripple effect of Hines’ story and life work.

The event will take place 7-9 p.m. March 26 at Regal Keauhou Stadium 7 theaters. Introductions and personal stories from the community will open the evening with the film’s screening starting at 7:30 p.m. After the film, there will be a Q&A for 30 minutes. A resource table will be stocked with free information.

To attend, $10 tickets must be bought in advance at https://gathr.us/screening/22770.

Suicide was the No. 1 cause of fatal injury in Hawaii from 2012-16, with an average of 186 deaths per year statewide, according to research from Dr. Daniel Galanis with the state Department of Health.

Over the past 10 years, both nonfatal and fatal suicide attempts have been increasing on the Big Island. From 2012-16, the island had the highest five-year age-adjusted rate of fatal and nonfatal suicide attempts of all the Hawaiian Islands.

Particularly vulnerable to suicide in the Kona community are youth. From just the past 30 days, Zaidoff recounted a total of six suicide attempts by youth aged 11 to 17 in the South Kona community. She believes social media plays a significant role in youth suicide, as it not only leads to cyber bullying, but also replaces meaningful social connection with tweets, Snapchats, and “likes.”

Parents should be aware of the mental health issues youth face today, said Zaidoff.

Research from the Hawaii State Department of Health shows suicide was the leading cause of death for youth in Hawaii from 2012 to 2016, with a total of 47 suicide fatalities for youth aged 10-19 over the period. However, these deaths are not the only numbers to note.

According to the DOH, “For each child who dies from suicide in Hawaii, there is an estimated 6 (57 per year) who are hospitalized for a suicide, and another 19 (181 per year) who are treated in emergency departments (ED) for nonfatal self-inflicted injuries each year.” Nonfatal youth suicide attempts in Hawaii increased from 207 in 2012 to 256 in 2016.

Also susceptible to suicide are veterans, with Veterans Affairs estimating 22 veteran suicide deaths per day in 2012.

Additionally, to help prevent suicide, psychotherapist Nancy Sallee of Orchid Isle Psychotherapy and chairperson for Prevent Suicide West Hawaii Task Force advised observing behavioral and signs of depression among friends and family. Warning signs for depression may include social withdrawal, lack of hygiene, and decreased interest in school, sports, or other activities, said Sallee.

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Sallee hopes the event screening will raise awareness about suicide in the community and empower people to take action.

“It’s paying attention all the time, and when we notice, we should be there for them and have an idea of who to call,” said Sallee.