Hawai‘i receives federal funds to prevent suicide

The Hawai‘i State Department of Health announced this week it has been awarded $1.5 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, for youth suicide prevention and early intervention projects for the next three years.

“These federal funds build on and strengthen our existing suicide prevention efforts,” Director of Health Dr. Chiyome Fukino said Wednesday. “With this funding, the Department of Health will be able to increase training for adult gatekeepers in key agencies to recognize and respond to youth who are at risk for suicide.”

Head of the administration Eric Broderick said suicide claims the lives of more children and young adults each year than does cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke and chronic lung diseases combined.

Hawai‘i’s young people are especially susceptible to suicide attempts, according to the results of the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the 39 states that were evaluated, Hawai‘i had:

• The second highest percentage of youth reporting they “felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row,” at 31.8 percent. Arizona was highest with 32.5 percent.

• The second highest percent of youth reporting they “seriously considered attempting suicide” at 18.5 percent. New Mexico was highest at 19.3 percent.

• The second highest percent of youth reporting they “made a suicide plan” at 17 percent. Wyoming was highest at 17.8 percent.

• The third highest percent of youth reporting they “attempted suicide” at 12 percent. New Mexico was highest at 14.3 percent, followed by North Carolina with 13.3 percent.

• The 12th highest percent of youth reporting their “suicide attempt was treated by a doctor or nurse” at 3.0 percent. New Mexico was highest at 4.8 percent.

The issue has become more pronounced on Kaua‘i in recent weeks as a pair of youths, aged 17 and 18, committed suicide earlier this month. In 2008 alone, four of the island’s eight suicides were committed by teenagers, according to Kaua‘i Police Department records. Since 2000, 10 persons aged 20 years old or younger committed suicide on Kaua‘i.

According to the Department of Health Web site, 128 lives are lost to suicide each year, making it the second-leading cause of death in the state. Another 870 are hospitalized after attempting to take their own lives. The subsequent hospitalizations cost more than $12 million annually.

Hawai‘i’s Gatekeeper Training Initiative, a state program, plans to conduct statewide suicide prevention conferences and workshops to educate and support professionals, community members and survivors on evidence-based practices.

The program will also work with the Suicide Prevention Task force to implement and expand the statewide suicide prevention network, and develop a statewide suicide prevention awareness campaign appropriate for Hawai‘i’s multi-ethnic population.

In that vein, next month the Department of Health will sponsor a suicide prevention conference titled “Tools for Suicide Prevention and Intervention.”

The conference, to be held Nov. 21 on O‘ahu, will feature a keynote address from Dr. David Rudd, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech University and a past president of the American Association of Suicidology.

• On the Net: www.samhsa.gov, www.hawaii.gov/health

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