Archive for the ‘Health’ category

Suicide Prevention Month: It’s okay to ask for help

September 10, 2019

One morning, a woman called the office, crying. She asked for the phone number to a suicide hotline. I tried to stay calm as I gave her two phone numbers she could call.

I didn’t know if she needed the hotline for herself or a loved one. I don’t know if she received the help she needed. I may never know how things turned out. And she may never know how she changed me.

Because of this woman, and this moment when she reached out for help, I started paying more attention to suicide awareness and prevention.

In Hawaii, suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death. There are an average of 190 deaths by suicide a year and an additional 910 nonfatal attempts, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s EMS and Injury Prevention System Branch.


September is suicide prevention and awareness month, and today – September 10 – is World Suicide Prevention Day. Today, and all month long, survivors, families, community members, and mental health advocates and organizations are coming together to promote suicide prevention awareness.

Here are a few ways you can help make a difference:

* Find out about suicide risk factors by downloading a fact sheet, Risk of Suicide, from The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

* Learn how to talk to someone who may be thinking about suicide or who need someone to talk to. #BeThe1To shares the 5 Steps for talking with someone who may be thinking about suicide.

* Write about suicide in a way that helps reduce the risk of suicide contagion (exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors that can result in an increase in suicide or suicidal behaviors) – and include stories of hope and recovery. free guide for reporter, bloggers, and anyone who comments about suicide on social media.

* Walk in support of suicide awareness and prevention. On September 14, 2019 join the Out of the Darkness Walk in Honolulu or on September 28, 2019 in Kahului with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hawaii. On October 12, 2019, join the NAMIWalks in Honolulu and Hilo.

*  Donate to your local crisis center, AFSP Hawaii, NAMI Hawaii, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For more ideas about how to take action, download a free toolkit from The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a free toolkit with ideas to take action.


If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), text 741741 ALOHA, or call 911 immediately.


Creativity and self-care

July 30, 2019

Earlier this month, I took a day off from work to attend the “Wellness and Self-Care Conference,” sponsored by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii. We spent the day learning about why we react to stress the way we do, as well as how we can re-train our brains to change the way we think about negative experiences.

One of the ways that I relax and release stress is through art and spending time at a ceramics studio. So I was really excited to attend the breakout session on “Culture and Creative Care.” Each of the panelists shared their personal stories of trauma, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and depression, and how creative practices aid in their recovery.

Photography. A woman dancing on the beach during sunset, body arched, arms outstretched. A powerful woman poised on the rocky shoreline, archery bow drawn, with the ocean spray exploding behind her. These were some of the photos shared by Anisa Wiseman, NAMI Hawaii Program Manager, as she talked about how photography helped her to retell old stories in new ways. She said that photography can make you aware of how your mental state affects your entire body and can help you live in the moment.

Passing out blank pieces of paper, Anisa led us through a journaling activity. She asked a series of reflection questions, like What makes you mad? How does your body respond? What makes you nervous, anxious, or stressed? How do you respond? How can you calm yourself down? We took a few minutes to write down our thoughts.

Art. A bold painting of a blue phoenix rising from the flames on the side of a building. A winged woman with arms outstretched, and hands reaching up to her from the ocean. Art therapist Kate Madigan clicked quickly through her vivid and sometimes dark paintings. She joked that she changed jobs because she ran out of spaces to paint. “Art may not have the answers,” she said, “but it asks the right questions about who we are, what is important to us.”

We had a chance to express our own creativity. Kate asked us to write a word or draw an image on natural wood discs. She passed out colored markers and some suggestions for words and fonts. We had a few minutes to create something, and then we returned it to the container. When we left, we choose a disc that was created by someone else. I gave “joy” and I received a reminder to “seek and you will find.”

Music. Music therapist Mayu Langford spoke somberly about childhood abuse. Expressing herself through music helps her to be in the moment, instead of past suffering. Music made her pain tangible, so that she could start to heal.

At the end of her talk, Mayu gathered us into a circle. We clapped, our right hand to our left hand, and then our right hand to the left hand of the person standing next to us. We sang “Lean on Me” together. It was a beautiful way to remind us that we are not alone and there are people who want to help us.

After an afternoon of creativity, I felt rejuvenated. Anisa, Kate, and Mayu courageously shared their stories and inspired us with their creativity.

How do you express your creativity? What rejuvenates you when you feel anxious or stressed?

Opiates and mental illness

July 23, 2019

It’s common knowledge that heroine and morphine are addictive. But did you know that fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, is 50 times more powerful than heroine and 100 times more powerful than morphine?

Last week, I attended a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii Members and Friends Meeting in Honolulu with guest speaker and NAMI Hawaii co-founder Dr. Denis Mee-Lee.

“NAMI is where my heart is greatest,” Denis said before he launched into an overview of opiate use in the United States, links between opiate use and mental illness, and treatment options for opiate dependence.

The information he presented was sobering. He explained how anyone could easily slide into addiction, and reminded us that there are things we can do for loved ones with an opiate dependence.

Opiates, like oxycotin, vicodin, codine, morphine, and fentanyl, are linked with mental illness. In 2011, 70,000 people died of a drug overdose, and 67% of those overdoses involved opiates. After just one month of taking opiates, 10% of patients can develop depression. Even more distressing, patients who abuse opiates and benzodiazepines have higher rates of suicidal thoughts.

Opiate addiction is a disorder. Like mental illness, there are overlapping factors, such as exposure to stress and/or trauma, underlying brain deficits, genetic predisposition, and more.

Medication is just one treatment option. Today, there is pressure on doctors and psychiatrists not to prescribe opiates. Treatment plans for individuals with opiate dependence and a mental illness include Peer group support, intensive counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy), family education and counseling, and follow-up support.

Maintenance, not a cure. For individuals with chronic pain, there may not be a cure. But we can help them maintain their quality of life and often “reduce the sensation of pain” by creating individual assessments and addressing the underlying conditions related to their experience of pain.

Share your story. Denis stressed that one way to increase support for government legislation and funding is to share your story of opiate use or living with someone with opiate addition. To legislators, real people sharing their real experiences is more effective than statistics.

If you live with chronic pain, what treatment plans work for you? If you know someone with an opiate dependence, do you feel you have the resources to help them?

Wellness and self-care

July 16, 2019

We all lead such busy lives, pulled in so many different directions. Many of us are struggling with work, children, finances, care-giving, and health issues. We feel overwhelmed, but often we are the last person that we take care of.

Last week, I took a day off from work to attend the “Wellness and Self-Care Conference,” sponsored by Mountain-Pacific Quality Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hawaii. Thank you for a wonderful event with engaging speakers!

We spent the day learning about why we react to stress the way we do, as well as how we can re-train our brains to change the way we think about negative experiences.

As Kumi Macdonald, Executive Director of NAMI Hawaii, said: “We need to take care of ourselves on a daily basis.”

Here are three things I learned about coping with stress and avoiding burnout:

1. Positives are in abundance. Keynote speaker Paul Hutman, PhD, explains that though we tend to the focus on the negative, we can build a positivity bias. Whenever we find ourselves in a joyful or beautiful moment, we need to take time to absorb the feeling and steep ourselves in the experience. “Use the power of attention to stay in the positive moment,” he says.

There are many means of self-care, starting with the basics – air, water, food, clothing, shelter, diet, fitness, and quality sleep. Other practices include being present, setting an intention, shifting our perspective, meditation, and yoga. Like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel, choose the self-care that works for you. Then do the self-care action for itself, not its outcome.

  • When we feel worry, tension, or helplessness, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel a sense of safety, relaxation, and strength.
  • When we feel sadness, frustration, or boredom, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel gratitude, pleasure, and accomplishment.
  • When we feel left out, envious, inadequate, or resentment, we should engage in self-care practices that make us feel a sense of belonging, self-compassion, friendship, and kindness.

2. Mental well-being is always with us. We have the power to change how we feel, declares mental health counselor Christine J. Heath. We make ourselves stressed or unhappy, not the outside world. To change our emotions, we need to change our thoughts.

3. Make things right through forgiveness, repentance, and letting go. When we approach stress and broken relationships with ho‘oponopono, we can identify internal causes of stress and reduce them, teaches Kumu Ramsay Taum. Accept that there can be multiple truths and that we can be correct without someone else being wrong. Examine the deep-rooted problem and what is going on inside ourselves that is causing us to experience stress. Then release our negativity by focusing on preferred conditions.

The question is not, Why are you causing me stress? The real question is, What is it about me that causes me to stress about you?

How do you cope with stress and burnout? Do different self-care practices work for different kinds of stress? What is causing you the most stress right now, and what is one self-care practice you can do?

Saying yes to more

June 25, 2019

If you’ve been reading Better Hawaii, you may remember that last year, I accepted a new position at my organization. At the time, I was doing many of the tasks already, but I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to actually take responsibility for them. I’m a behind-the-scenes person, and this job meant I would be out in front.

I said “yes” because the company needed me, and also because I found myself thinking of the book “Do Hard Things” by then-teenagers Alex and Brett Harris. At odd times, their words spur me to step outside of my comfort zone.

For anyone who feels like they have to “fake it until you make it,” I want to share some of the changes I chose to make after that first “yes” – and what happens when you start saying “yes” to other things.

Yes to more learning. I’m a planner and a list-maker, so saying yes feels like running in the dark, over uneven ground littered with sharp rocks. To feel more comfortable about the new job, I read books from the library and took free online classes. Most online learning is self-directed, so you decide how much effort you put into them. The extra learning helped me gain confidence. It also kept me busy, so I didn’t have time for second thoughts.

Yes to more invitations. One morning, a woman called and invited me to speak to her group. As if I were listening to another person, I heard myself say “yes.” When I hung up, I was a little horrified. But I relearned a great tip: tell yourself that you’re excited, not nervous. The butterflies and racing heart are exactly the same, but your mindset is completely different. So I told myself (a lot) that I was excited. Another day, I was invited to a fundraising dinner that I would usually not attend, and I had an amazing time meeting people and being part of an inspiring evening.

Yes to more opportunities. My way to open myself to new opportunities, for my organization and myself, was to say a personal mantra a few times a week (or whenever I needed a boost). I chose words that remind me that I want to help my organization become more successful and I want to feel that I am giving back to our community. “I open myself to the world,” I would say with arms arching overhead. “I share myself with the world,” I say with arms circling forward. I can’t claim that my mantra makes good things happen, but I can say that I feel more appreciative when good things happen – when we receive an unexpected contribution, when the office chairs I needed where donated to us, when the right people ask to join us as staff or volunteers.

Yes to more time for myself. It’s easy to say “yes” to too many things, and sometimes I wasn’t as selective in the opportunities I accepted. I found myself overwhelmed and stressed. I realized that I had stopped doing a creative hobby that I really enjoy. So I made time to do it. After an evening at the studio, I felt more relaxed and more cheerful, connecting with friends who share a similar passion.

How do you respond to new opportunities and challenges? When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

Great friendships at work

May 21, 2019

“Members of the good-to-great teams tended to become and remain friends for life,” Jim Collins wrote in “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” (2001).

He was writing about the importance of finding the right people for your organization, and added this observation the last two paragraphs of the chapter. It’s not even highlighted as a “key point,” but I think it’s an important insight.

Our co-workers don’t need to be our friends, but it helps when we are. We spend so much of the day with our co-workers, and sometimes evenings and weekends too.

Looking back over the years, some of my co-workers became strong friends. We share similar interests and a similar commitment to our jobs. And some of our most personal moments involved sharing a meal.

At one job, four of us played golf together almost every weekend, starting as beginners and improving together. We played nine holes at sunset or made day trips to local courses on Saturdays.

At another job, a co-worker became one of my best friends. We ate together, met on weekends, and I even helped to teach her to swim.

“Friends are wonderful to have,” my then 11-year old son wrote. “Friends are people who can help you and who you can rely on… You do not need to have friends, but it is more fun if you have people who can keep you company.”

Recently, two co-workers and I volunteered for a charity walk. We walked together and then ate lunch under a tree, listening to music.

Collins stated, “If we spend the vast majority of our time with people we love and respect – people we really enjoy being on the bus with and who will never disappoint us – then we will almost certainly have a great life.”

Who are your closest friends? Do you have co-workers who are your friends? How easy or hard is it for you to make new friends?

Teen depression and suicide

May 14, 2019

In Hawaii, 11.97% of teens (ages 12-17) had a major depressive episode in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2016-2017. Even more alarming, 16.0% of teens (ages 12-17) reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data, 2017.

Suicidal thoughts don’t have to be literal, but they’re always dangerous.

That’s one of the first things that I learned at a panel discussion about “Teenage Depression and Suicide” at the 2019 Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival.

Moderated by comedian Pashyn Santos, the discussion talked about how teens (and adults) can respond to sadness or depression. “Happiness is not defined by success or achievement,” Santos reminded us.

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel emphasized that “Suicidal thoughts really mean, ‘I want to feel better’ or ‘I need a break.’” We can help teens recognize their feelings by teaching them to be in the moment and slow down.

Clinical psychologist Sid Hermosura said that mindfulness can help us look at our thoughts, not just feel our thoughts. He emphasized the importance of social connection, relationships, and gratitude.

Associate professor Thao Le said that just as we eat healthy foods to feed our bodies, our thoughts are a form of “mental food.” For every negative thought we have, we need to bring up five positive thoughts to balance it!

Interfaith minster Rev. Bodhi Be challenged teens to identify their “core wound,” the hole that they are trying to fill. When we find out what we love, we can fill that hole and “forget about ourselves” by serving others.

Le shared a mindfulness practice that can help us feel compassion and strengthen our relationships with others. Think of a person (or yourself) and wish them well by saying, “May you be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering.”

What are your happiness tips? Who can you reach out to when you feel sad or depressed?