Recognize the signs of depression
Suicides tear the heart out of our community in Maui County, leaving surviving family and friends with unanswered questions: “What if . . . ?” “If only . . . ?” Bottomless grief cannot be expressed in words. Sympathy falls short of comforting inexplicable loss.
Last month, to support suicide prevention efforts and encourage all those in need to seek out mental health resources and support services, I proclaimed the week of Sept. 8-14 as Suicide Prevention Week. Of course, suicide is a painful subject to talk about. But, as a community, we need to confront issues such as suicide, depression, elder abuse, substance abuse and domestic violence.
While teen suicides leave deep scars in our communities, the state Department of Health reports that the elderly are more likely to take their own lives than any other age group. White males older than 85 are at particularly high risk, with a suicide rate of 49.8 deaths per 100,000, compared to 14 per 100,000 in people over 65 and 11 per 100,000 in the general population.
If we suspect someone is depressed, we should not be afraid to ask if he or she needs help. We should be aware of people who withdraw from friends or family, and those who lose interest in their usual activities or show signs of sadness, hopelessness or irritability.
According to the state Department of Health’s Emergency Medical Services & Injury Prevention System Branch, other warning signs include a loss of energy; purposely putting affairs in order; changes in appetite, weight, behavior, activity level or sleep patterns; making negative comments about self; recurring suicidal thoughts or fantasies; and a sudden change from extreme depression to being “at peace” — a possible sign of a decision to attempt suicide.
For more information about suicide and suicide prevention, visit health.hawaii.gov/injuryprevention/home/suicide-prevention/information/.
Not mentioned in the website is cyberbullying, which is something I’m gravely concerned about. Wikipedia lists nearly two dozen “notable” suicides that have been attributed to cyberbullying.
I join with our community in praying for the family and friends of Casey Chargualaf, who took his own life after attempting to check into detox multiple times at Maui Memorial Medical Center. His body was found on the hospital grounds on Sept. 9.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help Casey’s family with funeral expenses and to raise community awareness about suicide.
In a Sept. 23 article in The Maui News, Casey’s aunt, Virginia “Virgie” Cantorna, said members of his family want to be his voice. “We don’t want his death to be meaningless,” she said.
So, we must continue the conversation about suicide prevention in our community. First, we need to come to grips with the scale of the suicide in our society.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of all deaths in the United States and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 to 24. In Hawaii, suicide was the single leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 16 to 44 from 2011 to 2015.
The Health Department reports an average of 190 suicide deaths per year in Hawaii, and another 190 residents, on average, are treated in hospitals yearly for nonfatal attempts.
More than 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition, which often goes unrecognized or untreated. It bears repeating: As a community, we need to reach out to people who are at risk of committing suicide and get them lifesaving help.
For anyone needing immediate help, the Crisis Line of Hawaii takes calls 24/7 at (800) 753-6879. There’s also a National Crisis Text Line at 741741 or www.crisistextline.org. Hawaii Mental Health Assessments and Referrals can be reached at (808) 643-2643, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.
I’ll close by thanking those who serve on the E Ola Hou Suicide Prevention Task Force of Maui County. Its members envision a world without suicide. They are dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide through research, education, advocacy and resources for those who have lost loved ones or struggle with mental health conditions.
* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.