‘Undetermined’ cases cloud data on suicide
Suicides appear to be decreasing in Hawaii, but the number of deaths ruled "undetermined" has increased, says a state health official.
Mental Health WorkShops
The state Health Department is coordinating a series of two-day workshops with the Suicide Prevention Task Force and Hawaii SPEAR Foundation of America. Registration is $55. The workshops, scheduled from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will be held:
» Oahu: Sept. 20-21, at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Campus Center's Executive Dining Room, 2500 Campus Road; Nov. 29-30 at the Hawaii Tokai International College, 2241 Kapiolani Blvd.; Dec. 10-11 at Hawaii Tokai International College.
» Maui: Oct. 11-12 at the Maui Beach Hotel, 170 Kaahumanu Ave. in Kahului.
» Big Island: Nov. 1-2 at the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center, 919 Ululani St., Hilo.
Participants must register and pay in advance and commit two full days for the workshops. For more information and registration, call 734-9256 at Kapiolani Community College.
Detailed information is posted on the Health Department Web site, www.hawaii.gov/health. Information also is posted on the department's Injury Prevention Web site at nogethurt.hawaii.gov.
Crisis help line
» Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or who knows of someone who needs help is encouraged to call the ACCESS Line, 832-3100 on Oahu or (800) 753-6879, free from the neighbor islands.
Hawaii was averaging about 127 or 128 suicide deaths a year -- roughly one every three days -- but the number dropped to 121 last year, said epidemiologist Dan Galanis, with the state Department of Health's Injury and Prevention Control Program.
However, 79 deaths were considered undetermined by the medical examiner, he said, noting this is a big jump from 2002, when undetermined deaths totaled 36.
He said undetermined deaths since 2002 have averaged 52 per year but have gone up every year. The highest numbers were in the last two years, with 72 in 2005, he said.
"So, in other words, the number of coded suicides is going down, but that might just be from the number of undetermined cases increasing," Galanis said, adding that medical examiners and physicians might have become more conservative about what they call a suicide.
Many people are hospitalized and go to emergency rooms for suicide attempts -- more than 1,400 in 2005, and Galanis said he suspected the actual number could be double that.
Figures were similar last year, he said, adding up emergency department patients and hospital admissions for suicide attempts.
Emergency departments treated 532 documented suicide attempts last year, plus an estimated 10 percent that were not coded or documented, for a total of 598, he said.
He said 670 hospital admissions were documented suicide attempts, and the total is projected at 793, including those not documented but believed to be suicide attempts.
The statistics include both state and military residents but not tourists, Galanis said.
The state's high suicide rate led health officials last year to expand a steering committee into a task force to work on problems of suicide. Members trained with experts from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center in Boston.
Art Tani was appointed as state suicide prevention coordinator in November, and the Legislature provided $100,000 for each of two years in the Health Department budget for suicide prevention activities.
Tani said the department provided suicide prevention training for 307 people in the community in a series of 15 workshops over a year beginning June 2006. He is coordinating a new series of two-day workshops with the Suicide Prevention Task Force and Hawaii SPEAR Foundation of America.
Tani said the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training workshops are tailored for anyone interested in preventing suicides, such as counselors, clergy, community caregivers, crisis workers, law enforcement personnel, health and social services workers, teachers and parents.
He said the workshop helps participants to recognize and assess people for risk and whether it is serious. "It gives you some tools for suicide prevention first aid, making a connection with that person and being able to talk frankly with the person about tensions," he said.