LIHUE — In 2017 the words “suicide epidemic” rocked Kauai, catching statewide attention, as well as that of three Kauai women who started talking about real solutions.
Connecting the community was the basis of all of their discussions and so Franci Davila, Chanel Josiah and Belgica Heredia started Kauai Mental Health Advocates (KMHA), a community-based nonprofit that has already hosted round-table, talk-story discussions on the topic.
“It started as a sort of triage, trying to care for each other as friends and as colleges,” Davila said. “But as a community, we’re all suffering, so we have to bring people together to help start the healing process and talk about what we can do as a community to take care of each other.”
All three women are already dedicated champions of mental health. Davila has a graduate degree in social work, Josiah is a mother of five and a student in social work at University of Hawaii Manoa, and Heredia is a nurse at Wilcox Medical Center.
Currently, they’re working through the steps of achieving nonprofit status for KMHA, but the ladies aren’t letting paperwork stop them from getting to their mission.
They’ve already hosted three community conversations, in which they’ve brought together residents and representatives from local mental health services to help connect the dots, share personal stories, identify problems and brainstorm solutions.
Those community conversations were held in Koloa, Kalaheo and Lihue, and drew between five and 10 people to each session.
“These are going to be ongoing because of how successful it’s been on a personal level and a community level,” Davila said. “We’d like to get to hosting them once a week in a different area.”
The next community conversation is set for sometime in February.
“(The goal is) connecting face to face with our fellow Kauaians, hearing their stories and concerns while providing a platform to facilitate a dialogue between the community and community leaders regarding the challenges we endure with the current system,” Heredia said.
Josiah said during the Community Conversations, she takes the role of facilitator and manages the administrative operations of KMHA, like social media and email communication.
“My interest in mental health strengthened when my brother in law took his life in 2017 due to many different complexities in his life,” Josiah said. “I began to fixate on mental health and suicide itself. What I learned in a small amount of time is that there are many challenges. It’s a complex issue.”
Kauai’s saving grace, Josiah pointed out, is a caring community.
“It’s apparent through these community conversations that our community is robust in support,” she said. “I’m on a journey to give back to my community. I’m really passionate about education in regards to mental health and the affects it has on our individuals, families and our community.”
Davila pointed out that Kauai does have mental health resources and state and county officials do work to make information available to the community, but said it’s simply not enough.
“There’s cracks in that. There are pockets of communities with needs that aren’t being met and we can’t lean on social services for help at this point,” Davila said. “This is a chance to connect as humans and support each other, to share information and partner with the county and state, and to make suggestions.”
The key to their community conversations is that they’re based in that human connection and in solution-sharing, Davila said.
She and her partners in KMHA say identifying needs and barriers as well as solutions and supports will help the community move forward in increasing the quality of life and mental health island-wide, and aid in decreasing the rate of suicide.
“Mental health is so complex that one solution isn’t going to fix this,” Davila said. “(This is about) hearing from the community and identifying solutions that already exist, as well as looking at new solutions.”
Anyone interested in participating in KMHA’s community conversations, or looking for more information can call Davila at 631-1154.
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com.