Project aims to prevent suicide, encourages students to seek help

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Entertainers, wearing lei, Kapena Q, Big Mox and Bosswitdasauce of 808 Viral are photographed with students after the Project Reach Out teen suicide prevention assembly Friday at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Students raise their hands during the Project Reach Out teen suicide prevention assembly Friday at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Guest speaker Tammy Muranaka, left, is introduced by family therapist Makela Bruno-Kidani during the Project Reach Out teen suicide prevention assembly Friday at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Honokaa High School junior Lehua Peters, 17, tells her story during the Project Reach Out teen suicide prevention assembly Friday at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.

LAUPAHOEHOE — A teen suicide prevention project kicked off Friday at Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School.

Project Reach Out, sponsored jointly by the Hawaii County Council and a nonprofit called Kahua Pa‘a Mua, aims to share resources and spread its “message of hope” with middle and high school students through one-hour assemblies at Big Island campuses.

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It launched Friday with assemblies in Laupahoehoe and Honokaa. Later this month, it will stop at Kanu o ka ‘Aina Learning ‘Ohana and Waimea Middle School. In September, it will host assemblies at Ka‘u and Konawaena high schools.

“We are going school to school pending funding, and we are eventually wanting to take this islandwide,” said Makela Bruno-Kidani on Friday. Bruno-Kidani is an island-based family therapist who is helping lead the project.

“In my work, I hear the stories day in and day out and I see how entire communities are affected by suicide,” she said. “I hear how this is a really dark time for students. So, I want to make sure they are equipped with the tools to know how to reach out and find that courage to talk to somebody or share their feelings.”

Friday morning’s assembly in Laupahoehoe began with a motivational speech by members of the Oahu-based entertainment group 808 Viral, who encouraged students to spread positivity and seek help if they are experiencing difficult times.

It also included presentations by Honokaa student Lehua Peters and Waimea cancer survivor Tammy Muranaka.

It culminated with Bruno-Kidani sharing her own struggle with depression as a young teen.

Bruno-Kidani said she eventually sought help at age 19 after waking up her college roommate to go to the emergency room. She told teens to help their friends who might display warning signs of suicide or depression.

“Suicide doesn’t take away the pain,” Bruno-Kidani told the students. “It gives the pain to someone else and more people than just one — the entire community.”

“If we have a community and a school family that is always checking in, always asking ‘Hey, how are you? Are you OK?’ And doing that on a regular basis, that right there is our glimmer,” she added.

Hawaii County’s suicide death rate was 20.4 per 100,000 residents between 2013 and 2015, the highest in the state. For comparison, the national suicide death rate was 13.3 percent per 100,000 residents in 2015 and the statewide rate was 13.6 per 100,000 residents in 2014, according to state Department of Health statistics.

Laupahoehoe student Jareese Amaral, 16, said she hopes the presentation spurs students who need help to seek it — she and her classmates were given cards after the assembly with crisis hotline information.

“It’s difficult to be in high school in this generation, just with the bullying nowadays,” Amaral said. “I feel like (the project) is going to help students because it will give them a chance to talk to somebody especially if they don’t already have someone in their life to talk to.”

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“It might also give them different perspectives on the kinds of things they are going through and they’ll know they always have someone to talk to or a hotline (to call),” Amaral added.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.