New study finds worrying trends in Hawaii’s rates of suicide, drug deaths

New study finds worrying trends in Hawaii's rates of suicide, drug deaths

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new study shows that deaths in Hawaii from suicide, drugs and alcohol have been climbing steadily over the past 12 years.

The Commonwealth Fund found that reported suicide deaths in the island rose to the second-highest rate in the country at 15.2 per 100,000 people in 2017, the latest data available.

In 2005, the statistic was 8.2 per 100,000 people.

Alcohol and drug deaths also rose over the same period.

“We are deeply concerned about the increasing rates of suicide," state Rep. Della Au Belatti said.

But advocates say the numbers don’t come as a big surprise.

According to Trisha Kajimura, the executive director for Mental Health America of Hawaii, the mental health overall in Hawaii “has been suffering over the last 10 years.”

“We often focus on what is most visible but we need to look at what is less visible that is a symptom of the same problem," Kajimura said. “When you talk about suicide, what you’re talking about is untreated mental illness. People aren’t getting the help that they need.”

Further muddying the issue, the state isn’t sure the Commonwealth Fund’s conclusions are accurate.

Nancy Deeley, the suicide prevention coordinator at the Hawaii State Department of Health, said it’s not exactly clear that the suicide rate in Hawaii is increasing, given year-to-year variations and different ways of reporting fatalities.

Belatti said that regardless of the numbers, the state has been continuously trying to improve suicide prevention help.

“We passed a bill that would provide over $100,000 in funding for suicide prevention programs and education awareness," Belatti said.

“We also designated September as suicide prevention and awareness month."

Another way the state is trying to help is through places like the Hale O Honolulu Clubhouse, a rehabilitation program designed to help members recovering from mental illness.

Jeff Kaplan, the director of the clubhouse, said their main goal is connecting with individuals, bringing them out of isolation and reintegrating them back into the community.

“The fact that they go into isolation very often and are self medicating, there’s absolute concern that those individuals are not being connected with," Kaplan said.

“Through work and education, the clubhouse has been very successful.”

For Kevin Tanaka-Texeira, a paranoid schizophrenic, being a part of the clubhouse was key to his survival.

“If it wasn’t for the help of professionals to realize and say that I’m seriously mentally ill, I guess I wouldn’t have known and I would’ve died," Tanaka-Texeira said.

He described the clubhouse as a place that helped to develop “character” and “hope.”

“It’s basically a freedom. A mini heaven for me.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or at risk of suicide, here’s where to go for help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255), press 1 for military
  • Hawaii Crisis Line at 832-3100, Neighbor Islands 1-808-753-6879
  • Text 741741 ALOHA

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