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Walk to shed light on mental illness and suicide

By Staff | Oct 2, 2014

Scores of red-shirted firemen and locals donned high heels on Saturday at the third annual Walk a Mile in her Shoes event at Whalers Village. Organized by the West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force and Women Helping Women, the event is a men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. Stacey Moniz, executive director of Women Helping Women on Maui, is pictured with walkers. PHOTO BY NORM BEZANE.

WEST MAUI – Suicide statistics are mind-boggling and heart-wrenching.

In 2010, over 38,000 people died by suicide in the United States; and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s “more than war, murder and natural disasters combined.”

Twenty percent of all deaths by suicide annually are veterans.

Suicide rates are highest for people between the ages of 45 and 64, and it is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.

Someone in the U.S. dies by suicide every 16 minutes, and 90 percent of those who die by suicide could have benefited from mental assistance.

“In Hawaii, the statistics are every three days, somebody takes their life,” West Side suicide prevention advocate Leslie Hiraga observed.

“Unfortunately, there was a death last week on the other side by suicide. Two weeks ago, there was a death on our island in a very rural area that is shattering their little community,” she added.

There are a very few of us who have not been touched by this tragedy.

Leslie and her husband Nelson lost their 21-year-old son Daniel to suicide almost ten years ago. She works at the West Maui Senior Center. He is a self-employed steel fabricator.

Leslie is the co-chair, with Leslie Lau Hee (MEO Youth Services coordinator), of the first annual American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Maui on Saturday, Oct. 11, at Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in Kahului.

Founded in 1987, the AFSP is the leading national nonprofit, its website reads, “exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.”

The Hawaii chapter is based in Honolulu.

The purpose of the walk is to shed light on the stigma of mental illness and suicide and to help create a world without suicide.

The key is prevention, and the goal of the event is to help raise money to fund research, advocacy and the development of education and survivor programs.

The community walk next weekend, the Lahainaluna High School alumni told the Lahaina News, is several laps around the interior of the mall, “almost a mile.”

“After the walk, there will be a fair where there will be informational tables within Ka’ahumanu Center of different organizations or health-related departments, as well as the AFSP with information about where to go for help or learn about the signs of suicide or just general information of what you could do if somebody was in crisis,” Hiraga advised.

Participants will receive colored honor beads signifying: White, loss of a child; Red, loss of a spouse; Gold, loss of a parent; Orange, loss of a sibling; Purple, loss of a relative or friend; Green, struggling; Silver, loss of military; Support of the military (red/silver/blue); and support of AFSP and the cause (blue).

Registration is from 8 to 9 a.m., at which time the walk commences. To pre-register, visit the AFSP website at www.afsp.org/.

“There is no registration fee for our walk,” Hiraga said. “If you want to participate, you put in zero, and you don’t have to raise any funds. One hundred and fifty dollars is the benchmark to get a free T-shirt from our AFSP. It’s not a pledge that you will get the $150; it is a goal. You are not held to anything. So there is no registration fee. If you chose to put in a dollar amount, good; if you don’t, no sweat.”

Mark and Judy Ellman, island restaurant entrepreneurs, are among the event sponsors. They have donated $500 and given $200 worth of coupons to Mala Ocean Tavern.

Another major sponsor is the Maui Comedy Festival (Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 in Lahaina), co-produced by Paul and Kathleen Chamberlain of Haiku.

“The Maui Comedy Festival is honored to announce that it has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In addition to donating a portion of all event proceeds to the AFSP, the festival hopes to provide a new platform for continuing the dialog surrounding suicide and depression,” a recent MCF press release read.

“The producers of the Maui Comedy Festival,” the announcement notes, “recognize that mental illness and suicide disproportionately affect the comedy community and has been responsible for taking some of the greatest comedic souls far too early. The decision by festival producers to align with an organization dedicated to addressing this topic was one that was only further galvanized by the recent tragic loss of Mr. Robin Williams.

“We realize that the union of comedy and suicide may seem a bit discordant at first, but we hope people see the obvious connection, remember those we have lost and find it easier to have a conversation and seek help that may save a life,” added Chamberlain, founder and executive producer of the Maui Comedy Festival.

In a flyer, the MCF invites the community to join its team at mauicomedyfestival.com/AFSP.

The benefits of joining the march on Oct. 11 are multiple: Educating teens about depression; funding research; establishing programs for survivors of suicide; promoting educational campaigns; and creating and expanding the AFSP chapters across the country.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the annual rate of suicide 20 percent by 2025.

For more information, call Hiraga at (808) 205-8087 or e-mail her at lahaina866@yahoo.com.