My Turn: Suicide prevention in Hawaii

Suicide is a complex and tragic public health problem and a leading cause of death in Hawaii that affects our island communities. However, suicide is preventable.

State Department of Health data shows that over the past four years from 2016 to 2020, there were 957 deaths by suicide across the state, and between 2015 and 2019, there were 34 deaths by suicide on Hawaii Island. The most recent data (2019) published by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), shows Hawaii’s suicide rate at 15.8 per 100,000 compared with the National rate of 14.5 per 100,000 (http://www.suicidology.org).

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While September was National suicide prevention and awareness month, there are ongoing opportunities to learn more about suicide prevention in Hawaii. Building awareness and acquiring gatekeeper skills are key strategies for suicide prevention in our local communities and a way to help reach the state of Hawaii’s suicide prevention goal of reducing suicide by 25% by 2025. Enhancing suicide awareness and prevention trainings for gatekeepers is considered by suicide prevention professionals as a best practice for suicide prevention. Gatekeepers are individuals from any walk of life who are trained to help a person who may be having thoughts of suicide. They have the skills to recognize suicide warning signs and the knowledge to get the person to the resources they need. A variety of gatekeeper trainings are offered in the local community to the general public, organizations, schools and businesses.

Efforts are being made to reduce suicide on Hawaii Island across the state through several initiatives. The Hawaii Island Prevent Suicide Task Force in conjunction with the state Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task Force provides leadership, trainings and awareness events in the community. Membership is made up of individual volunteers, groups, and organizations who actively train gatekeepers using several different evidence-based Gatekeeper training programs such as Connect, safeTALK, and Youth Suicide and Bullying prevention to name a few. The programs are one to four hours in length and provide skills to intervene and help someone who might be contemplating suicide. Task Force members do not provide direct services but do provide outreach and support in collaboration with local agencies and at community events. Anyone however, who reaches out and listens to someone who might be facing challenges in life or suffering with a mental illness can give a person a sense of hope, and hope can prevent suicide.

If you are interested in learning more about the Hawaii Island Prevent Suicide Task Force or are interested in getting trained in a suicide prevention please email: hipreventsuicide@gmail.com. Another resource is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Hawaii Chapter and can be found at https://afsp.org/chapter/hawaii. AFSP Hawaii chapter provides a number of resources and offers support for anyone who is a survivor of suicide loss. AFSP will be hosting a virtual “Survivor of Suicide Loss” event on November 20, 2021.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please reach out to any of the following resources:

• Hawaii Cares 24-hour Crisis Line at (808) 832-3100 or (800) 753-6879

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

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• Text “Aloha” to 741-741, a 24-hour Crisis Text line

Yolisa Duley, Ph.D., M.Ed., is co-chairperson 0f the Hawaii Island Prevent Suicide Task Force.