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Hawaii suicides not higher at Christmas; but experts preach awareness

KAILUA-KONA — It’s been a little over six years since Norene Cabuag lost her brother Dereck Pacatang to suicide.

The 30-year-old had been having marital problems and had talked about killing himself in the past, Cabuag recalled Friday.

“I helped stop him a couple times,” she said. “The last time, he didn’t call me.”

Pacatang was found hanging in a tree at a beach he liked to go to on Oct. 15, 2012. At the hospital, doctors were unable to resuscitate him. He left behind three kids.

“People say it takes time,” Cabuag said of the healing process. “Six years today, I can say it takes a long time.”

While the holidays are hard without Dereck, Cabuag takes comfort in spending time with her family.

“I get together often, over lunch or dinner and we are constantly talking about Dereck,” she said. “We talk about past Christmases that we have had with him and we share stories about him with each other. Talking about him makes us feel better.”

While Hawaii’s statistics don’t support an uptick in suicides during the holiday months, experts say bringing awareness to the topic is always important.

“I have not yet found a person who has not been impacted in some way by suicide,” said psychotherapist Nancy Sallee. “It’s an epidemic. It’s frightening.”

Sallee, who is also involved with the West Hawaii Suicide Prevention Task Force, said she frequently asks patients in her office, especially now, if they’re thinking about suicide
or if they’ve made attempts.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the state of Hawaii, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Hawaii County leads the state in the highest committed suicides.

According to the state’s Department of Health, there were 926 suicides among all age groups from 2013-17.

Around the holiday season, Sallee said, a lot of people are alone or are carrying memories of their past.

“Christmas has so many themes and expectations attached to it that don’t materialize,” she said.

Sallee provided tips on how to help loved ones who might be struggling.

“Stay in touch in a meaningful way – not just pictures on Facebook, but a meaningful connection,” she said.

Sallee added not to avoid the conversation of suicide.

After Dereck’s death, Cabuag got involved with the Hawaii Island Suicide Prevention Foundation.

Every time the group had an event, she said she would go.

Cabuag also took a class to get certified in how to assist those contemplating suicide. She was also a member of the task force.

“It was the hardest thing I had to do in my life,” she said of the training.

Daniel Galanis, epidemiologist with the department of health, said support is key, be it provided by a trained caregiver or a layperson.

“We encourage reaching out by those in crisis, but also urge everyone to be sensitized to suicidal risks among people around them and try to guide them to appropriate support,” Galanis said. “Training for this sort of ‘gatekeeper’ role is coordinated through our office and our partners.”

For more information on trainings, visit:

There are several resources available to individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. Locally, people can call Sallee with the Hawaii Island Present Suicide Task Force at 333-8988. On the eastside of the island, they can call Yolisa Dudley at 932-7963.

More information about the issue and how to get involved can be found at and at Hawaii Island Suicide Prevention Foundation’s website at

Those in need of immediate assistance can call the crisis line of Hawaii at (800) 735-6879.

The suicide prevention text line is 741-741.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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