HONOLULU — Hawaii legislators are wrestling with how to prevent suicides, the leading cause of fatal injuries in the state.
Mental health care and drug treatment in Hawaii is underfunded by tens of millions of dollars every year, and one direct result of this is far too many suicides, Democratic Hawaii Sen. Josh Green said.
One person dies every two days by suicide in Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported . There was an average of 186 suicides a year from 2012 to 2016, compared to 120 in the early 2000s, according to state Department of Health statistics.
The Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task Force presented a plan late last week to reduce suicides in Hawaii by at least 25 percent by 2025. Strategies include raising awareness about what supporters say is a preventable health problem through the press and social media.
“There’s a lack of awareness of the scale of the problem in the state,” said Dan Galanis, an epidemiologist at the state Health Department, which receives $100,000 annually for suicide prevention programs. “Part of that plays into the stigma of losing someone to suicide and even some remaining stigma around mental illness.”
The task force is also recommending more training, particularly for first responders, educators, health care providers, corrections authorities and support groups for survivors and others in need. The group says more research and evaluation of prevention programs, policies and systems need to be done, as well as ensuring adequate community resources.
“It’s important to raise awareness throughout the whole community in regards to the hope, help and healing that is available,” said Oahu task force Chairwoman Pua Kaninau-Santos, whose son, Kaniela, died in 2003. “The faces of our loved ones, they’re just not statistics. They all had lives; they made a bad choice. We are the voices for those who have no voices.”