Suicide is the leading cause of fatal injury deaths in Hawai’i, outpacing car crashes, homicide and drowning. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted a training workshop recently.
One person dies by suicide in Hawai’i every two days, and for each death, 30 others attempt suicide. Nationally, suicide rates are increasing across all demographics, despite prevention, intervention and treatment. Donna Schuurman, a senior director for advocacy for grieving families and children in Portland Oregon, says suicide is not always preventable.
“If you were to break your leg today and there was a bone sticking out of it and you are in excruciating pain, the only thing you can think about is getting out of pain. It takes you over. And, I think that the emotional, spiritual, psychic pain takes people over and they sink into hopelessness.”
Schuurman says recent celebrity suicides by Kate Spade, Anthony Bordain and even earlier by Robin Williams, underscore the need for us to understand the complex, multiple root causes of suicide. Pua Kaninau Santos lost her 18-year-old son, Kaniela, to suicide in 2003. It completely shattered her life.
“I wanted to die. I did not want to live when my son took his life because that became very up close, traumatically personal and I didn’t know how I was gonna live one day to the next day. That first year I was totally frozen in place and just could barely make it through the motions.”
Kaninau-Santos is now with the O’ahu Prevent Suicide Hawai’i Task Force, helping survivors like herself, through the life-long process of healing. Pono Shim, an economic development executive and Native Hawaiian cultural leader and storyteller, says there’s a universal trait in all cultures that values the lives and contributions of everyone, like it was in Hawai’i more than 500 years ago.
“Someone needed to keep the fire going, someone needed to clean the coconut husks to make rope. Someone was pounding Wauke to make our clothing. Others were in the Imu, making sure that was being done well. We were in the auwai making sure the water was flowing. No one/s hana was more significant or less significant than anyone else’s.”
Shim says rediscovering that universal trait of valuing every life in the community will require a journey back in order to find the road forward.
“This was built 5-to-7 hundred years ago, before the Tahitians came and brought us the hierarchical system of the Ali’i. Way before the missionaries came. This was built and designed – all these systems -- in the time of history known as Ka’anani ‘Au. The time of peace and thriving, where everything thrived.”
Senior Director Shuurman says one in ten Americans are now on anti-depressants but the number of suicides continues to climb. She says what we’re doing is not working.
“A lot of people who die of suicide will say, ‘You’ll be better off without me, I’m a problem for you.’ And they convince themselves that it’s true. Even though, we, who are left behind don’t feel that way. We wouldn’t trade your perceived burdensomeness for anything. We want you back.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.