High suicide attempt rate prompts state response
Hawaii had more than 1,400 hospitalizations and emergency room visits for suicide attempts last year -- a figure that does not truly reflect the problem, says a state health official.
"It could be as much as double, in reality. It could be more like 3,000 a year, but that's just conjecture," said epidemiologist Dan Galanis, with the state Health Department's Injury and Prevention Control Program, noting, "A lot of them are coded as not suicide attempts."
Hawaii has an average of 127 fatalities each year from suicide -- roughly one death every three days, he said, pointing out suicides are the leading single cause of injury-related deaths in the state.
HAWAII SUICIDE STATISTICS
» Suicide is the 12th leading cause of all categories of death.
» The most common mechanism of suicide is hanging or suffocation, accounting for 45 percent of deaths.
» Male residents are three times more likely to die from suicide than female residents.
» Precipitating events for a majority of suicide victims mostly relate to relationships with intimate partners (particularly among younger victims) and serious illness or medical problems (particularly among older victims).
To give increased attention to suicide incidents, health officials announced yesterday they are expanding a steering committee into a task force. The committee has been working on the problems of suicide for the Injury and Prevention Control Program.
The task force, with about 20 to 25 members representing a cross-section of concerned agencies and residents, completed a three-day training session yesterday with experts from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Boston.
Police officer George La Rosa and his wife, Trinidad, were among several parents who lost children to suicide and want to help prevent it from happening to other families. They spoke at a news conference at the Queen's Medical Center.
The La Rosas said their daughter, Trini, 19, jumped from an overpass and was killed on Aug. 26, 2004.
They said she had tried suicide once before, jumping from an overpass at age 14 and suffering brain injuries.
She had to start over, learning everything, Trinidad La Rosa said, but she had just graduated from Kaimuki High School, was on the honor roll and played sports. There were no signs that she planned suicide, the parents said.
"She didn't let us know anything was going on with her," said Trinidad La Rosa. "She put all the pressure on herself. She always tried to be best."
Pua Kaninau said the youngest of her three children, son Kaniela, jumped from a tree and died April 5, 2003, five days after his 18th birthday.
"We never had a clue, but after I look back, there were plenty of clues," she said.
A Kalani High School senior, his grades were declining, he had insomnia and behaviors that were "labeled as rebelling" instead of signs of possible suicide, she said.
"Coming out of the shock, I needed to find out as much as I could, and I began educating myself" about suicides and what was being done about it locally and nationally, Kaninau said.
She turned to national resources, such as SPAN USA, the Suicide Prevention Action Network, and now is a community organizer in Hawaii for that organization. "There was nothing here to access, and I needed help."
She since has learned of others addressing the issue, such as Dan Yahata of Kamehameha Schools, director of the steering committee.
They have joined forces now with other concerned people on the task force. They hope to educate parents, teachers and others to recognize a child's moods and clues of depression so they can intervene.
"There are literally no suicides where there are no warning signs," said Ramya Sundararaman, suicide prevention coordinator from the resource center in Boston.