HONOLULU — Two measures aimed at suicide prevention and raising suicide awareness passed the Legislature on Monday.
One of the bills designates September as “Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month” and the other appropriates $150,000 to the Department of Health to support youth suicide early intervention, prevention, and education initiatives in all counties focusing on youth between the ages of 10 through 24.
Kauai’s Rep. Nadine Nakamura was among the crowd of legislators and community representatives that came together on Monday to celebrate the passing of House bills 55 and 330.
“It is critical that we bring awareness to suicide as a public health issue, and work to educate and support individuals, families, and communities in the state,” said Nakamura, vice chair of the Human Services &Homelessness Committee, who introduced HB 330.
She continued: “Suicide was the leading cause of injury-related deaths for Hawaii youth from 2013 to 2017. Suicide rates are higher among young people, especially from the neighbor islands and rural communities, and alarmingly high among Hawaii’s LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning their identity) youth.”
The Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task force’s 2018 report to the Legislature found that the rate of suicide deaths in Hawaii has been increasing, especially during the past 10 years. The task force found that between 2012-2016, suicide was the leading cause of fatal injuries of people ages 15-44 in Hawaii, and the leading cause of fatal injuries among all Hawaii residents.
On Oahu, 66 youth for every 100,000 people die as a result of suicide; on Maui it is 86 per 100,000; on Kauai it is 92, and on Hawaii Island it is 117.
Designating September as “Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month” will play a key part in advancing this recommendation and raising greater awareness overall.
Task force member Pua Kaninau-Santos, who lost her son Kaniela to suicide in April 2003, said no one can imagine the pain of losing a family member to suicide, but she has learned that there is no one solution to solving the problem.
“We know so well that suicide is preventable and a lot of hard work by everyone here has brought us to this moment,” said Kaninau-Santos. “I want to thank the Legislature for their support. Together we are going to try to save those lives crying out for help.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Della Au Belatti said the strength of the task force lies in its diversity bringing together the military, Native Hawaiians, educators, neighbor island residents, and youth.
“To prevent suicide, we need to bring awareness to the problem and must allocate adequate resources to support education and early intervention,” said Belatti.
Both bills now advance to Gov. David Ige.