Worried a loved one may attempt suicide? Here are the signs and a key question to ask

Health officials on Oahu are trying to make sense of a troubling spike in suicide attempts.
Published: Jun. 29, 2023 at 5:32 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 29, 2023 at 6:49 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Health officials on Oahu are trying to make sense of a troubling spike in suicide attempts. This comes as Honolulu EMS says it’s now responding to about a half dozen calls a day.

Experts say it can happen without warning. Other times the signs can be difficult to decipher.

When it comes to recognizing suicidal behavior, Dr. Hale Akamine believes most of us are looking at the wrong things. He says top indicators aren’t so much about depression — but instead, anxiety and the feeling of being trapped.

The stories are heartbreaking.

“We’re seeing a lot of young people,” said Honolulu EMS paramedic supervisor Sunny Johnson.

Honolulu EMS officials say more often, they’re seeing patients in their teens or early 20s. And calls for help don’t seem to be slowing down.

“It’s multiple times a day,” Johnson said. “In multiple areas of the island.”

“Seventy-five percent of those who die by suicide never let anyone know they’re going to make an attempt,” said Dr. Hale Akamine.

The licensed clinical psychologist has been practicing in Hawaii more than 30 years.

He says in many cases, people who are serious about dying by suicide never let anyone know they’re going to make an attempt. And will lie if they’re asked the question point blank.

He says a better approach is to recognize certain risk factors.

“We all think that depression is correlated with an attempt to die by suicide. Well, it turns out that it’s really anxiety that’s more closely correlated with an attempt,” Akamine said.

He says another risk factor is someone believing they’re a burden to family and friends. Or feelings of entrapment.

“That’s the sense that there’s no way out of my life circumstance,” said Akamine.

When it comes to youth, he says suicide attempts are often linked to alienation.

“We’re talking about being bullied, being iced out. Isolated,” said Akamine. “The second part is there needs to be a trigger. It can be almost anything. At that point the feelings of anxiety and panic can become so overwhelming they want to end it.”

He says in addition to anxiety those at risk often will seem suddenly out of sorts expericing panic attacks, headaches and insomnia.

He says a key question to ask is: Do you feel trapped?

“Ask do you feel like there’s no way out,” he said. “Again, you stay away from the question of are you thinking about dying by suicide.”

If the answer is yes, Akamine said, “At that point, we do need to get them in the presence of a medical professional, and I would accompany them to the emergency room.”

According to the CDC, nearly half of the people who decide to die by suicide will make the attempt within one hour.

“If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, call 911. We’ll take you to the hospital. We’ll get you the help that you need,” said Johnson.

A resource that everyone should know about is Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Just dial or text 988 and you’ll be connected with a trained crisis counselor. They’re available to talk 24 hours a day.