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September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

NO KA OI HEALTH

Hawaii is facing a new public health epidemic — suicide.

September is suicide prevention awareness month but this topic needs to be discussed year-round. In Hawaii, suicide is the leading cause of injury death. One person dies by suicide every two days. Further, suicide is the leading cause of death among the 15-24 year-olds, which is higher than car crashes, homicide, drowning and poisoning. After somebody dies by suicide, families, friends, and communities are left in a state of shock, wondering how this tragedy could have happened.

As a public health educator, I find this new epidemic shocking and sad. I feel our culture is failing our young people. Addictive substances, including alcohol and vapes, are easy to get and commonplace. These substances add to the downward spiral of mental health challenges. Additionally, our communities and media are filled with violence, cost of living is high, families are going into debt just to make ends meet, and our world is dealing with extreme climate challenges. Each of these factors may lead to diminished hope and feelings of being powerless.

As a parent, this trend is worrisome. I want the best for my kids and try to support them in their journey to become thriving adults. Of all the fears we each face regarding teens and young adults, worrying about them having thoughts of suicide should not be one of them. By writing this article, I hope to raise awareness about suicide, encourage people to feel comfortable talking about suicide, to learn the signs that someone may be at risk and to ask for help. Together, we can raise hope in those who need extra support.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among our teens and young adults. In 2015, 8.7 per 100,000 15-19 year olds and 19.9 per 100,000 20-24 year olds died by suicide. These rates are even higher on Maui. A lot happens between these ages: Adolescence, high school, first loves, broken hearts, going to college or the military, new job, and becoming completely independent. It’s a lot.

We need to teach our youth skills on living healthy that can help prevent them from going down a negative spiral, including eating healthy food, getting daily physical activity, managing stress and anxieties, managing finances, building positive social support, ways to enjoy life, and that it’s OK to ask for help. Further, it’s very important that kids hear from us that we love and believe in them every day.

Risk factors for suicide include depression, substance use, financial stress, trauma, easy access to lethal means, and exposure to another person’s suicide. Regardless of these, anyone can be at risk for suicide. It’s important to know the warning signs and to take these signs seriously. These include suicide ideation, talking about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, using more alcohol or drugs, isolation, sleep changes, or a sudden improvement in emotions (relief when the decision for suicide has been made). Suicide is a cry for help, but there is hope.

If you notice warning signs in someone you know, have an honest conversation with them. Talk with them in private, ask them directly if they are having thoughts of suicide, and mostly, listen to their story. Your questions can help save their life. If a person is considering suicide, keep them safe by staying with them and assist them to find appropriate help.

Here are a couple of resources:

• Crisis Line of Hawaii. (800) 753-6879.

• Crisis Text Line. Text ALOHA to 741-741.

If you work in a school or workplace, post signs with the crisis line and text line. Have trained adults whom students and employees know they can safely talk to.

Finally, as we don’t know if someone is in physical or emotional pain, we can each have a positive effect on people’s lives. By sending even a kind word, a smile, or a listening ear, we could make a positive difference in someone’s life.

Suicide is a large topic to cover in one article. If you would like more information, please call the Public Health Education at (808) 984-8216.

* Kristin Mills is public health educator with the state Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office.