Legislature Passes Suicide Prevention Bills
The Hawaiʻi State Legislature recently passed two measures to help suicide prevention and awareness efforts.
The first bill, HB655 HD1 SD1, designates September as “Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month” as an effort to raise awareness about suicide prevention. The bill also aims to inform the public on the resources and support available to individuals, families, and communities. Secondly, HB330 HD1 SD1 CD1 appropriates $150,000 to the Department of Health to support youth suicide early intervention, prevention, and education initiatives in all counties, focusing on youth from the ages of 10 to 24.
Suicide was the leading cause of injury-related deaths for Hawaiʻi youth from 2013 to 2017. According to Rep. Nadine K. Nakamura, suicide rates are higher among young people, especially from the neighbor islands and rural communities. Nakamura also said that suicide rates are alarmingly high among Hawaiʻi’s LGBTQ youth.
“It is critical that we bring awareness to suicide as a public health issue, and work to educate and support individuals, families, and communities in the state,” Nakamura said.
The Prevent Suicide Hawaiʻi Task Force’s 2018 report found that the rate of suicide deaths in Hawaiʻi has been rising over the past 10 years. The task force also found that suicide was the number one cause of fatal injuries among all Hawaiʻi residents.
Sen. Rosalyn H. Baker explained that it is often difficult for people struggling with suicide ideation to seek help, especially for those who live in a community that does not have adequate services to support mental health issues.
“We must de-stigmatize conversations around mental health, and provide residents in all communities, and especially on neighbor islands and in rural areas, the health support services they need,” Baker said.
Established in 2016, the Prevent Suicide Hawaiʻi Task Force is a collaboration between government agencies and private community groups to provide leadership, develop strategies, and monitor the progress of suicide prevention efforts in Hawaiʻi.
In 2017, the task force worked with the Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch to create a strategic plan to reduce Hawaiʻiʻs suicide rate by 25% by 2025. One of the task forceʻs key recommendations is to develop and implement a public awareness campaign, which prompted the legislature to designate September as “Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.”
Task force member Pua Kaninau-Santos, who lost her son Kaniela to suicide in 2003, said no one can imagine the pain of losing a family member to suicide. She has learned that there is no one solution to solving the problem.
“We know so well that suicide is preventable and a lot of hard work by everyone here has brought us to this moment,” Kaninau-Santos said. “I want to thank the Legislature for their support. Together we are going to try to save those lives crying out for help.”
House Majority Leader Rep. Della Au Belatti said the strength of the task force lies in its diversity, bringing together the military, Native Hawaiians, educators, neighbor island residents, and youth.
“We know access to health care resources, including mental health services, can be significantly more challenging for residents on the neighbor islands than on Oʻahu,” Rep. Belatti said. “The Legislature is committed to providing funding to close this gap.”
Both bills are now headed to Gov. Ige for approval or veto.
Below is a list of resources for those in need of help or support:
- Crisis Line of Hawaiʻi: Oʻahu: 832-3100, Neighbor Islands: 1-800-753-6879
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- National Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741