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OHA research reveals higher suicide rates among Native Hawaiians

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control shows a steep increase in suicides in states across the nation.

The study, which looked at the period from 1999 to 2016, revealed that suicide rates had increased by more than 30 percent in half of the states; in Hawai‘i the rate increased 18 percent. Researchers at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs found the suicide rate is considerably higher for Native Hawaiians.

According to OHA’s 2017 Kānehō‘ālani report, Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander men are twice as likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts. Their suicide rate is nearly double that of the second highest ethnic group. The authors noted “Kāne susceptibility to suicide and the factors that influence such negative outcomes need to be better understood, and promptly addressed from a prevention lens.”

A chart in the Haumea report shows how Native Hawaiian high school students compared with their non-Hawaiian counterparts and the state as a whole in 2015:

Figure 1.6: Percent of High School Students Who Seriously Considered Attempting Suicide by Gender and Grade (2015)
Ethnicity Gender 9th Grade 10th Grade 11th Grade 12th Grade All High School Overall

Native Hawaiian

Female

26.1

27.7

15.1

28.5

24.1%

19.6%

Male

11.9

19.7

15.5

13.1

15.5%

Non-Native Hawaiian

Female

21.9

22.3

14.4

15.6

18.7%

14.8%

Male

9.2

10.5

11.2

12.0

10.6%

State

Female

23.3

23.1

15.2

18.1

20.1%

16.0%

Male

9.9

12.8

12.4

11.8

11.7%

  • Note: Ethnicity = DOH Race/Ethnicity
  • Source: Hawai‘i Health Data Warehouse. (2017) Hawai‘i Department of Health, Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS)

When it comes to Hawaiian females, OHA’s 2018 Haumea report uncovered a troubling trend in the vulnerability of Hawaiian girls, whose suicidal ideation peaks at 28.5 percent in the 12th grade, according to a study of public high schoolers. Female students consider suicide more than twice as much as males. “Further, the next highest highest rates show 10th grade as the time when more ‘ōpio (male and female combined) are seriously considering suicidal attempts (47.4 percent),” according to the report.

Haumea includes a section on Mental and Emotional Health: Youth and ‘Ōpio, which addresses depression, eating disorders, self-harm and a range of suicidal behaviors in young wāhine.

Cover art: Haumea Cover art: Kānehō‘ālani

Both the Kānehō‘ālani and Haumea reports are available on OHA’s website:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website has a number of resources and recommendations related to rising suicide rates at www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide. Below are the CDC’s recommendations on how communities can help prevent suicide:

  • Provide financial support to individuals in need.
    States can help ease unemployment and housing stress by providing temporary support.
  • Strengthen access to and delivery of care.
    Healthcare systems can offer treatment options by phone or online where services are not widely available.
  • Create protective environments.
    Employers can apply policies that create a healthy environment and reduce stigma about seeking help.
  • Connect people within their communities.
    Communities can offer programs and events to increase a sense of belonging among residents.
  • Teach coping and problem-solving skills.
    Schools can teach students skills to manage challenges like relationship and school problems.
  • Prevent future risk.
    Media can describe helping resources and avoid headlines or details that increase risk.
  • Identify and support people at risk.
    Everyone can learn the signs of suicide, how to respond, and where to access help.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices,” go.usa.gov/xQBGc