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Suicide uptick raises concern

  • Metro Newspaper Service

LIHU‘E —Four suicides on Kaua‘i in less than a week have prompted concern by police and health workers that the COVID-19 crisis is moving in a dangerous new direction, with broad risks to mental health caused by joblessness, financial reversals and despair.

Existence of the sudden rash of suicides was confirmed Monday by the Kaua‘i Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck.

The four suicides involve young men in their 20s or 30s, and the deaths, in all cases, were by hanging, Raybuck said. While KPD — consistent with longstanding policy — did not release names of the victims, Raybuck said three of the suicides occurred in Kapa‘a and one on the Westside. The first incident occurred May 2 and the most recent was last Friday, Raybuck said.

The four deaths in such close time proximity bring to five the number of suicides on Kaua‘i this year. “The families are all, obviously, grieving,” Raybuck said.

While he said police investigations of the four incidents are in the very early stages, media inquiries suggest a possible link to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the crisis may be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for the four deceased young men.

“One of the things we have seen is there is a nexus between (many suicides) and drug use,” he said. “When you take substance abuse or drug addiction, which tend to create relationship issues, and financial problems, you come into the situation where we are today with COVID.”

Many experts agree that acknowledging suicide as a public health issue — especially in today’s pandemic environment — is key to addressing it, and that ignoring the problem for fear of spawning imitator incidents fails as a prevention strategy.

Nationally, experts at the Washington-based American Academy of Suicidology said the apparent suicide cluster on Kaua‘i may be among the first incidents in the country to demonstrate that a national mental-health crisis may be evolving rapidly.

“This is probably going to be the second wave of the COVID pandemic that we’ll see,” said Chris Maxwell, the organization’s spokesperson.

The social limitations imposed by the COVID crisis, including the need to maintain physical separation between people and the fact that many medical facilities have become harder to access, make suicide prevention even more difficult than it is in normal times, Maxwell said.

“For many people experiencing a suicide crisis, the first instinct may be to go to the hospital emergency department,” he said. “That is likely not the best scenario in the middle of a pandemic.

“The other aspect is working within the community to provide support for each other, which is very difficult to do in the current climate. We need to work to encourage people to check in, whether it’s phone, or text, or Zoom or Facebook.”

Dr. Annie Chung, a Lihu‘e psychologist, had a somewhat different view of the link between the COVID-19 situation and the recent suicides on Kaua‘i.

“COVID-19 is not the cause of these recent suicides but, clearly, it’s exacerbating some of the problems and challenges this community has,” she said.

“My experience in working in this community is that, especially for young men, part of it is cultural and not accessing support, and feeling like it’s not OK to do so. It’s young men feeling untethered to families or community and they resort often to alcohol and drugs, and they have really compromised coping skills. It’s extremely tragic.”

Maxwell and Dr. Eric Fleegler, a Harvard Medical School expert in suicide and firearms use, agreed that the current situation makes it even more important to try to separate the means of committing suicide from its potential victims. Fleegler is one of the authors of a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that speculates that the COVID-19 crisis may spawn an “epidemic” of firearm suicide.

Classic approaches, he said, include removing firearms and drugs from the home. Locking up drugs and separating firearms from ammunition are valid strategies, said Raybuck and suicide experts, but complete removal from the household is a better approach.

“Everyone is a potential victim of depression here,” Fleegler said. “We need to make sure that people know this is a real thing and that people are going to be depressed, sad and overwhelmed. We are in desperate times. We need to be encouraging people to talk to each other. It’s very easy to just become more and more isolated if you’re not hearing from people. We need to reach out.”

Raybuck said that, while none of the four most recent suicides have involved guns, a fifth case — early in the year — did, and that gunshot suicides have long been common on Kaua‘i, just as they are in the rest of the country.

Internationally prominent researchers said Kaua‘i’s limitations in gauging suicide trends because of the island’s size are common in places with small populations.

Dr. Wolfram Kawohl, at the University of Zurich, whose team has been scrutinizing suicide in places like Kaua‘i since 2015, said that, in smaller locales, limited numbers require that local officials get as much information as possible on individual victims, especially on the frequency of suicidal thoughts before they killed themselves and the potential connections in each case to individual job loss.

Nevertheless, said Kawohl, “the medical community should prepare for this challenge now” in terms of documenting the connection between COVID-19 and suicides on Kaua‘i.

“Mental-health providers should also raise awareness in politics and society that rising unemployment is associated with an increased number of suicides.”

He said some research indicates that there may be as many as 20 unsuccessful attempts for every person who actually succeeds in committing suicide.

Historically, Kaua‘i averages about a dozen suicides a year. There were 25 in 2017 — a number so high for the island environment that it prompted speculation about a suicide epidemic here. The total dropped to 12 in 2018 and 15 in 2019, according to KPD figures. The 2017 spike has never been explained.

The recent spate of suicides also appears consistent with findings of a survey released in late April by the state Department of Health. It was based on in-person interviews with about 190 Kaua‘i households conducted by a team of volunteers on April 22 and 23. The data showed that:

• More than a third of Kaua‘i households reported they were very or somewhat concerned about being able to make the next month’s mortgage or rent payments, and 29% were concerned about paying for basic utilities;

• Nearly 57% of the households included at least one member who had lost his or her job or income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic;

• Nearly 40% of households were experiencing high or moderate amounts of stress, and nearly 60% worried about contracting the coronavirus.

Marie Terry-Bevins, a North Shore psychologist and former president of the Hawai‘i Psychological Association, said that the emergence of tele-medicine as the COVID crisis has unfolded may offer some hope for access to mental-health care. Like physicians in general, many mental-health workers have quickly shifted to working with patients by phone, Facetime, Zoom, Skype, and other virtual substitutes for personal contact.

“If your truck is broken, you go to a mechanic. If your leg is broken, you go to the doctor,” she said. “If you have emotional issues, you need to see someone who can help you. It’s important that people realize you can get help. You are needed. You are special,” Terry-Bevins said.

Warning signs of acute suicide risk

There are several warning signs of acute suicide risk:

• Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself;

• Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means;

• Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

The are also expanded warning signs of suicide risk:

• Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use;

• No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life;

• Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time;

• Feeling trapped, like there’s no way out;

• Hopelessness;

• Withdrawal from friends, family and society;

• Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge;

• Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking;

• Dramatic mood changes.

If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental-health professional or call a local or national suicide-response hotline.

Source: American Association of Suicidology,

Suicide crisis response resources

Here are some suicide crisis response resources

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255;

• Hawaii Suicide & Crisis Hotline: 800-753-6879;

• If you believe a situation is at the stage of critical emergency: dial 911 or call the Kaua‘i Police Department dispatch line, 241-1711;

• Hawai‘i Crisis Text Line: Text “aloha” to 741741;

• American Association of Suicidology:;

• Life’s Choices Kaua‘i, Office of the Mayor:;

• State Department of Health suicide resource website:;

• Life’s Bridges Kaua‘i: 651-6637

• For LBGTQ youth, The Trevor Project: or 1-866-488-7386;

• Alliance of Hope (national program to reach family, friends and community survivors of suicide). Moderated, interactive website: (The organization is headquartered in Illinois, but its website is administered from Kaua‘i.)

• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,


The Garden Island

  1. WestsideResident May 13, 2020 7:04 am Reply

    It was predictable; there will be more. The callous one sided single solution mindset taken by the mayor and the governor is ruining lives.

    The objective from the start was to avoid overwhelming our medical system, was it not?
    How did that become a mission to stop the virus at any cost?

    The virus will return. So where are the increased beds? Where are the increased medical personnel? Where are the preparations?

    Instead, we have a weakened economy that is less prepared to care for it’s vulnerable! We’ve neglected the health of the whole of society.

    Pathetically shortsided leadership has led the healthy to ruin.

  2. Westside Boy May 13, 2020 7:17 am Reply

    This is what can happen when you lock down a society that is based on freedom. I hope the suicide rate doesn’t past the death rate from the corona virus. That would be tragic. To our government leaders, please play close attention to this.

  3. Da Shadow May 13, 2020 7:38 am Reply

    the ongoing over-reaction to Coronavirus will be far more devastating to lives and livelihoods. Our entire island is close to despair. maybe isolate the vulnerable, instead of locking down and cutting off the entire island?

  4. rk669 May 13, 2020 10:23 am Reply

    Thank You,Governor Iggy and Mayor kawakami.
    Do you want more?
    Get the Failed UICLAIMS website working Properly . Kauaians need to pay rent and feed their kids! Time to Wise up and see what you’re doing to your Brethren! God has not given us a spirit of fear,but of power,love and a SOUND MIND!
    Are either of you Saved?

  5. Alohilani May 13, 2020 1:04 pm Reply

    How long do they want to lock up our people with: stay home, no social contacts, wearing masks, don’t sit at the beach or on a bench (even if you are elderly and can’t walk so much).
    It was the first time in this long crazy period I started to cry by reading this article today!
    I am grieving for the guys I even don’t know, I’m getting angry and don’t understand the servility on this island .
    Never in history we locked up healthy people because of a virus and we see now it is less worse than a normal flu.
    Why the people were held in fear? It is not about a virus, isn’t it?
    Every human needs to have social contacts or he will gets a lot of stress, suffer and hopelessness.
    There is not even a tiny little virus left on this island but we have to wear masks. This will be the next part of getting diseases if you can’t breath freely . The whole body with all the organs, blood etc. needs Oxygen to function propperly. What is coming next? More heart diseases, strokes and collapses, maybe by driving a car?
    I sent all my aloha to the deseased guys and there families and I hope the aloha will come back when we can give a big smile to strangers on the street with no masks!

    1. Juston Orth May 14, 2020 7:26 am Reply

      Very well said, thank you

  6. Bluedream May 13, 2020 1:39 pm Reply

    For the love of god please end this madness now. People are being divided and are hurting. Kids are having their lives and their special moments robbed in order to appease what is becoming an obviousness short sighted political shutdown that won’t deliver the desired results. Wake up disco mayor, and let the people, not cops and politicians decide what is best for ourselves. Everyone needs their ability to provide back.

  7. anonymous1 May 13, 2020 3:03 pm Reply

    Can you please remove the word cluster? I don’t think that is appropriate if the goal is to promote suicide reduction. Also, can you please not mention the method by which the person committed suicide.

    1. Nani May 14, 2020 1:23 am Reply

      I think it is a good time that people don’t need to be wearing the mask while exercising or out at the beaches. The island people has worked hard and has proven to follow instructions clearly and has flattened the Curve.
      I believe having the 6 feet distance and continuing to wash hands not touching your face and limiting socializing helped. But I feel at this time they could start the usual family gathering. The social distancing has already been for the last 3 months. Most Polynesian families need social communication and family nearby. And family surroundings helps ease the stressors of life what’s a Polynesian people.

    2. Juston Orth May 14, 2020 7:34 am Reply

      I agree with the cluster comment. On the other hand i was once told that they (who ever they are, I don’t know) but they have a noose with my name on it. It angered me very much. It also makes me wonder if maybe perhaps one at least is potentially foul play. As I know for myself I would never do that no matter how bleak things may feel and look.
      Prayers and healing vibes to the families who are missing their boys, fathers, and mates. We grieve with you in this loss.


  8. oscar May 13, 2020 9:13 pm Reply

    To Governor Ige: Thank you for your 30 day free trial of communism, we are now canceling our subscription.

  9. hutch May 14, 2020 12:04 am Reply

    These tragic deaths are at the hands of our idiot governor and mayor who first announced that they wanted to flatten the curve, and then when that happened, they decided to go on an impossible mission to conquer the virus. Instead they’ve vanquished the spirit of the people who were foolish enough to elect them. End this madness now.

  10. Jay May 14, 2020 1:12 am Reply

    Total Kauai Covid-19 deaths = 0
    Total Kauai likely lockdown related deaths = 4

    Unfortunately there’ll be more.. one phone call by the governor can get the army core to setup a ‘just-in-case’ field hospital, with ventilators, and extra staff, just like they did in many states, then reopen the economy

    Looks like they want it shut, they’re not really interested in solutions.. my prediction is that when the refrigerators get empty, and credit cards are maxed out, there will be civil unrest, even riots. True Hawaii is not usually the likely place for riots, it’s usually not the local way of dealing with problems, but each and every human being has their breaking g point.. and when you cannot feed your kids, or pay your bills, and cards are maxed out, and not because you did something wrong, but because your earning potential was sabotaged, that’s a breaking point for most

  11. Charlie Chimknee May 14, 2020 8:37 am Reply

    PART 1, please read First.

    Mayor Kawakami should open the entire island and tourism, and insist our Fake Missile Man Governor do the same, hey it’s just the flu by God….for everyone but the elderly who are already sick and diseased and at their End of Life. Not remarkable, it happens to everyone.

    Get to the sick, elderly, Disabled, and debilitated…and nourish them farther in their Active Life Longevity…you can Forget about the ones still surfing…No need…! Take care of them, don’t quarantine those who do Not need it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Prevention is the winner, after the fact is always the loser.

    The elderly sick are saturated with END OF LIFE DISEASES, ADDING TO THAT THESE FRAGILE ELDERLY PEOPLE ARE also saturated with too many prescription drugs and over the counter medications, and given even more drugs when they enter the hospital.

    Medicines are DRUGS.

    Drugs kill, and apparently kill the elderly.

    Doctors are the 3rd leading cause of death in America , and Maybe #1 cause of death as to psy-CoVid19 virus. The people dying seem to be around doctors And nursing homes that administer drugs as well.

    1.) Why won’t the Disease Authorities tell us the age group, within a 5 years age category, of those who died with this virus…Or is it a secret…?

    2.) Why won’t they tell us the diseases the dead already had when the virus came to them .is that a secret too…?

    3.) Why won’t they tell us the names of all the long term drugs they were taking up to their death…? And the drugs given in hospital and nursing homes. Are those a secret too…?

    4.) What drugs and Over the Counter medications were they taking up to their deaths in the hospital, nursing home, or their residence…? Are those secrets too?

    5.) What if the greater % of the cause of death, that is what the elderly are dying from, is not the virus but the accumulation of 1, 2, 3, and 4 above. You see almost 100% of the dying are elderly sick with the 4 categories above.

    And for you may sayers, can you pronounce the names of the prescription drugs you are taking right now.

    Dying WITH THE VIRUS or dying FROM THE VIRUS, are 2 separate causes of death. How many died of FALSE BLAME…?

    And sine it is rare For others to die from the virus but perhaps The few who did die, did they died from medical error while they had the virus.

    And TESTING, that’s a medical trick to get you through the TRAP DOOR to taking prescription drugs. SALES SALES SALES is medical business, especially repeat lifetime prescription drugs. Which lifetime prescription drugs are you on…?.

    Let’s not forgive, er, forget to give complement where blame may be due.

    Kawakami’s ignorance of Health may have caused him to make stupid disease care decisions leading to the deaths of 6 of our youth, while even no elderly were dying and apparently even no one Having the Virus on island as well. And a spike in domestic altercations, and 500 citations to outdoor Health Seekers…what a bad deadly political decision he made and the 6 deaths he will have to live with every day For the rest of his life.

    Mayor Kawakami languishing with his 6 Figure Mayoral income and sale of his multi million dollars family Big Save grocery chain and other real estate sale, he should be made to pay those 6 families $1 MILLION DOLLARS each…just like in a lawsuit in an auto accident.

    Further he should be forever barred from the beaches of Kauai nor ever allowed to surf here again…! Lest he forget the seriousness of his arrogant ways and errors.

    After all those boys did not die from any % of the virus, they died from the misery the Mayor chose to inflict on them…and us.

    And for all you who scoff at visitors or treat them with disdain, remember, it is a trade off, they work 50 weeks a year on or in horrible often freezing conditions in and on horrible and polluted farms, factories, warehouses, business travel and hospitality location in disgusting cities, growing the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the cars and trucks you drive, the textbooks your children learn from, the TV SHOWS THAT BORE OR MESMERIZE YOU; and all they get as a respite or break from their mundane medicated life is a few days a year in our paradise that we are stewards of, and Well Wishing Greeters with Aloha and Mahalo, for all they do And provide for us, while they are forced to live and work in Squalid US and WORLD cities…and why 40% of all real estate is sold to new incoming world people trying to get away from the situations they have to live in.

    And let’s not forget this whole scam of denying people their childrens’ education and GRADUATION after 12+ years of school… SHAME ON YOU DEREK…!…all this you are a part of and it culminates in Making desperate ignorant people desperately beg for a Vaccine never mind how ineffective and dangerous it will be.

  12. Charlie Chimknee May 14, 2020 8:48 am Reply

    PART 2 please read 2.nd.

    This self appointed Dr. Fauci of the CDC, Center for out of Control too many Diseases, like so many in government, will retire with part ownership in 1 or more psy-CoVid19 VACCINES to be sold to billions of ignorant people year after year as the new worthless annual flu shot, 10% off your groceries, so he can finally buy a home in Honolulu overlooking Waikiki, and praise God not here…he’s so small he could be run over running across Kuhio Hwy, against the light.

    Shame on our local medical profession, or maybe they did not learn immunology while busy learning which pill for your every ill. Learning not what restores your life needing WELLNESS, but what drug will mask your disease symptoms while your newly acquired disease continues to rage internally on it’s way to becoming a chronic degenerative disease, an END OF LIFE DISEASE, requiring more and more prescription drugs, and the painful disease side effects…are FREE. WHAT A DEAL, DOCTOR.
    And the End of Life Diseases Combine with an otherwise harmless flu virus and result is death. Shame Shame Shame

    Times have changed in the last several generations, the word PHYSICIAN has always meant Teacher of Health, when nowadays all that doctors teach you about is instructions to take drugs, often instructionS spit out by a computer on line, as well as telling the doctor which drug to take for which signs and symptoms you have…making a 12 year kid on a computer a better doctor today.

    What Has our society deteriorated too…lock up the world, the elderly are dying…?

    Haven’t the elderly always been dying…worldwide. Take off your dark glasses, it’s dimming your vision.

    STUPIDITY is having the ignorance to take toxic contaminated vaccines…with Mercury, not the planet, but containing the permanent MERCURY Neuro Toxin…!…poisoning your nervous system that you cannot live without.

    HOLD ON, Vaccines are coming to a Pharmacy and grocery store near you.

    SOON there will be ATM-like machines, put in your card, put in your arm, VOILA…! You’ve just been vaccinated…hope you got the correct one…and not the dreaded DOPEY MOOSE FACE vaccine…!

    If anything, for some, this Fake Virus Issue, will be a wake up in life, that one does not need a Primary Physician, (there aren’t any really anyway, physicians, no longer Health Teachers… Primary doctor means just the person who refers you up to more serious doctors, more serious diseases, more dangerous prescription drugs, more costly diagnosis and treatment.)
    Dang, who figured out that money maker…?

    The NEW NORM will be people, yes, you bewildered patients, you will eventually turn confidently to connecting with a Certified Health Coach, one who is all about teaching you about maintaining or restoring Health, and forget about Disease and their drugs.

    Ask a pharmacist, If they are honest they’ll tell you, get a disease, take prescription drugs, and then you get another disease as a side effect, getting you more drugs and Then more side effect diseases…and more prescription drugs…it’s called a very VICIOUS CYCLE.

    START tomorrow morning by STOPPING, and think about the rut you are in and make the move to daily personal HEALTH Care something you do yourself, instead of daily Prescription Drugs.

    You’ll feel better when you are HEALTHY.

    There used to be an old saying, “Clothes Make the Man”; but still “Food Makes the Body”, every cell, tissue, and organ of it.

    Main things: in order to get effective, not fake, immunity, it is gotten by exposure, That is infection, by the virus. The Internal Immune Response takes over and the Immune System provides billions of Immune Defense cells that are specific to each virus or bacteria…those billions of on reserve immune cells are the immunity you want when this virus returns, Otherwise you will be Not protected with immunity.

    And the layoffs, failed unemployment, and the deaths begin all over again. Are doctors and Scientists and politicians that stupid to not know this….? Or is it that without diseaseThey the medical ones will have no jobs without selling prescription drugs, or performing mutilating surgeries.

    If you do not Get exposure to the virus you will not get immunity. No immunity, means you will be susceptible To the virus when it returns , and what, shut down the economy again. Lose your job…? Die…?

    The Government that shuts down the people’s economy and businesses, and the people’s economy that can no longer pay taxes, shuts down the Very short sighted government that soon will also have no more money.

    In our all Democrat only state we have no one to blame but ourselves for a society breakdown. We do not even have any token Republicans, except for s few in the cracks of the floor boards.

  13. Debra Kekaualua May 14, 2020 10:07 pm Reply

    How about incorporating an anonymous or not, 808 Kauai, live voice phone answer to include actual out-calls, unassociated with government? All phone volunteers are medical professionals that are capable of listening, interview, perspective, and large amounts of empathy and hope!

    We ALL CAN.! We must! Life is precious. Hundreds love you, Reach out, otherwise a complete and total lifetime disaster for those you left behind, is avoided!

    If any ideations are messing with your naʻau, Use you last resources of Courage to press the phone numbers 808 482-0172. Aloha

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