Honolulu reports alarming increase in suicide attempts, especially among youth

Experts say youth and young adults are among those most at risk.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 3:38 PM HST|Updated: May. 22, 2023 at 4:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu EMS is now responding to between 10 and 15 suicide attempts a day amid an alarming uptick that health officials say they’re watching closely.

Experts say youth and young adults are among those most at risk.

It’s a trend the Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task Force is taking seriously. Officials there say Hawaii’s young people are the most likely to try and kill themselves by suicide, specifically between the ages 10 and 24.

And over the past three months, Honolulu EMS has seen a dramatic increase in calls for self-harm and suicide attempts. “Pre-pandemic we might go on a couple of calls a day where people tried to hurt themselves or intentionally overdose. Now, it’s 10. Sometimes 15 a day,” said Honolulu EMS Director Jim Ireland.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 24/7 by calling or texting 988.

In the 20 minutes it took to do an interview with Ireland last Monday, ambulances were dispatched to two different attempted suicides: a man and a young woman. He confirms both tried to overdose on drugs.

Ireland says in addition to attempted suicides, the number of people who’ve taken their own lives is also on the rise.

“Not just taking pills or overdoses, but also people trying to hurt themselves in other ways. Traumatic injuries including the use of firearms, knives and other trauma,” he said. “It’s increasing and it’s concerning.”

According to officials from the Prevent Suicide Hawaii Task Force, youth and young adults are the age group most likely to try to hurt themselves.

“It can go 10, all the way up to 24,” said Jeanelle Sugimoto Matsuda, task force leadership committee member.

She said often the reason stems from a lack of connection.

“Whether that’s with a significant other or at home with mom or dad. Or lack their of,” Matsuda said. “But when they’re disconnected or when they’re in unhealthy relationships that really becomes a risk factor for them.”

Data from the Department of Health shows over the past four years, the no. 1 cause of death in Hawaii for people between the ages 15 and 44 was suicide.

During that same time period, officials say 10 children under the age of 14 took their own lives.

Experts say it’s a problem we should all be talking about.

“It’s just so important because everything around the issue, mental health, getting treatment is so stigmatized,” Matsuda said. “The more we shy away, the more we’re feeding into that stigma.”

When EMS responds to an attempted suicide call, medics usually insist the patient go to the hospital. “It’s the hope that the hospital’s team with their mental health experts can engage the patient and not only get them better from whatever they did to themselves, but also get them to a place where they’re not going to do it again,” Ireland said.

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.