Hawaii has one of the nation’s highest youth rates for suicide attempts, which is also one of the leading causes of death for adults here.

Yet no one really knows why one of the happiest states in the country has so many people trying to kill themselves, and it can take several years before researchers have enough data to study the problem.

A $740,000 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could give state Department of Health officials a better understanding on the reasons why suicides and other violent deaths happen. 

The grant would allow the DOH to start collecting data using the National Violent Death Reporting System, which helps link data from law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners offices. The Aloha State was among 13 other states to receive the grant last year.

DOH officials have scheduled their first NVDRS working group meeting for July; the first data is expected to be available in June 2016.

Suicide Attempts and Fatalities

Data provided by the Hawaii Department of Health.

The database will gather information about the circumstances surrounding all of Hawaii’s violent deaths, such as recent problems with a person’s job, finances and relationships, as well as mental or physical health problems.

Officials such as homicide detectives and medical examiners already collect this kind of data, but it isn’t aggregated into a single system for quick access. It can take up to a year before each case is reviewed by the DOH, and homicide cases can take longer.

But with the proposed NVDRS system, DOH officials hope to access records within three months of deaths.

Linking such information can help researchers and law enforcement officials understand why violent deaths occur, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This could help communities develop prevention and public policy strategies, the CDC said.

While Hawaii ranks fifth overall for the lowest number of injury-related deaths state by state, there are policies and precautions the it could take to better prevent violent deaths, according to a recent report by Trust for America’s Health.

Hawaii scored 6 out of a possible 10 on steps that states can take to prevent injuries – nationally, 29 states and Washington, D.C. scored a five or lower. 

Youth Suicides

For every child who dies from suicide in Hawaii, it’s estimated there are five more who are hospitalized after suicide attempts, and another 14 who are treated in emergency departments each year, according to the DOH.

“Research shows (injuries) are pretty predictable and preventable,” said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of TFAH, in the report. “It’s not rocket science, but it does require common sense and investment in good public health practice.”

For instance, the study found that drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury in Hawaii, along with 35 other states. However, the state doesn’t require mandatory use of a prescription drug monitoring program for all health care providers, which can help identify doctors who overprescribe, or patients who “doctor shop,” the report said.

The NVDRS database could help researchers identify which prescription drugs people are using and where they’re getting them from, said DOH epidemiologist Dan Galanis.

The database would establish a pool of information on all of Hawaii’s violent deaths, like how many people are killed by law enforcement, firearms and child abuse.

“In the arena for homicides, (the NVDRS) enables a better understanding of victim-perpetrator relationship,” Galanis said. This can be especially helpful when identifying cases of domestic violence, he said.

Researchers and community organizations could also use the data to help specific populations, like the homeless, Galanis said.

The DOH’s vital records office will be in charge of the online database, which will connect with the CDC’s NVDRS system.

On a national level, the NVDRS can provide trends and information on how, when and how many people are killed, for example, by firearms or police.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found housing loss, for reasons such as foreclosures or evictions, is a significant crisis that can spur suicide. Researchers found that suicides triggered by housing loss doubled from 2005 to 2010.

The researchers who conducted the study say the findings could be used to develop prevention strategies that support people who might lose their homes by training financial professionals to recognize warning signs of suicide.

About the Author