UH Hilo receives grant from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen suicide prevention resources

Goals of the new grant project are to reduce mental health disparities, educate students and campus community about substance use and abuse to prevent suicide, and decrease reported levels of student distress and suicidal ideation on campus.

Two people practicing hei string art.
Students learn how to make hei (Hawaiian string figures) at a workshop to support well being and connection through culture as part of suicide prevention grant programs.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has received a three-year grant of $261,000 to support campus Counseling Services in efforts to build suicide prevention resources and strategies. The grant program is authorized under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named in honor of former Senator Gordon Smith’s son who died by suicide, and is operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Emily Low
Emily Low

“We want to find out what is working and what more can be done—hopefully three or four steps upstream—to promote wellness and prevent situations that although always complex and unique, may ultimately lead to suicide,” says Emily Low, UH Hilo Counseling Services counselor and principal investigator of the grant. “The goal is to meet the needs of all students, including veterans and LGBTQI students, who are at higher risk for suicide, and Native Hawaiians, men, and other groups who may be less likely to seek help when in distress.”

This is the second time the UH Hilo Student Health and Wellness Programs, housed within the Division of Student Affairs, has been awarded a SAMHSA Garrett Lee Smith grant. The past grant was used to train 1,354 students, staff, and faculty in suicide prevention, add suicide prevention lifeline information cards in the restrooms on campus, and increase mental health awareness and education.

Farrah-Marie Gomes
Farrah-Marie Gomes

“Recent survey data from UH Hilo indicates that our students experience notable levels of anxiety, distress and depression—all of which can be risk factors for suicide,” notes Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes.

According to the American College Health Association’s College Health Assessment released in 2016, in the last 12 months, students at UH Hilo reported the following:

  • 53% felt hopeless
  • 83% felt overwhelmed
  • 61% felt very lonely
  • 65% very sad
  • 43% felt so depressed that it was hard to function.

Goals of this new grant project are to:

  • reduce mental health disparities related to students’ race, ethnicity, gender and/or sexual identity
  • educate students and campus community about alcohol and substance use and abuse to prevent suicide and reduce high-risk and harmful student behaviors, and
  • decrease reported levels of student distress and suicidal ideation on campus.

Chey King, hired by the grant team in 2019 as the health promotion specialist, will coordinate the UH Hilo Suicide Prevention program Nā Kia‘i O Ke Ola (Guardians of Life).

“Services and events have begun for the semester,” King says. “We are hoping to get people from all departments to collaborate through the year and work together to make a sustainable change on campus and support student well-being.”

To access helpful services or for more information, visit the UH Hilo Counseling Services Suicide Prevention website or call the following:

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7): 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: text “Aloha” or “Hello” to 741-741
  • Crisis Line of Hawaii: 1-800-753-6879


Media release