On Tuesday, April 29, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Department of Health and Human Services Prevention and Intervention Program hosted a Spring Prevention Conference at the Marriott Courtyard Salt River in Scottsdale. This conference focused on suicide prevention and coping with grief and separation.
The event started out with an opening prayer and welcome remarks by SRPMIC President Diane Enos. She thanked all of those in attendance and offered her insights about the conference and its topics. After her remarks, the entire group broke out into different sessions. Each session focused on a different topic, and attendees were able to choose the sessions they wanted to attend.
Keynote speakers and topics were The Suicidal Brain, presented by Dr. Kevin Jordan; Journey Through Wellness, by Dr. Roland Segal; Culturally Responsive Treatment, Grief and Loss, and Clinical Considerations, by Deidre Williams-Angulo, M.A., LISAC; An Unforgettable Journey, by Steve Pattea; Developing an Emotional Relationship, by Pam Prasher; and Using Cultural Activities and Mindfulness to Reduce the Negative Effects of Trauma and Stress on Health and Well-Being, by Monica Tsethlikai, Ph.D.
Attendees were able to learn the differences between healthy and unhealthy and productive and unproductive coping. Examples of unhealthy and unproductive coping are alcohol, drugs, gambling, no balance between work and play, sleeping too much, overspending, being idle, mentally checking out and overeating. Examples of healthy and productive coping are positive reappraisal, writing, exercise, engaging in a hobby or activity, and attempting to increase your sense of control.
Behavioral health specialist Eric Lewis said, “I work with spouses and adolescents, and I think [the conference is] really good. I like it, and I like the gathering of the other tribes. I’m learning new things; we meet other people [from other tribes] and we learn something new.”
“I think [this conference is] very educational and it hits on some things that everyone may not be familiar with,” said Barbara Espinoza, employee assistance specialist with Gila River Gaming Enterprises.
Williams-Angulo’s session included using sticks to help individuals cope. Everyone gathered into a circle and was given a stick on which they were to provide words of encouragement for someone who has experienced losing a loved one. This became very emotional for some, but it proved to be a very effective exercise in this situation.
Pattea, the only son of the late Clinton Pattea (Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation), is still coping with his father’s loss, as well as losing his significant other, with whom he shared 15 years of his life. He admitted that through music and singing he is able to practice positive coping skills. Pattea performed a couple of songs which he said were hard to sing and were still very emotional for him.
“My father always used to say that everything that’s going on right now is preparing us for what’s coming next in life. He was a well-respected man and he is missed by many,” Pattea said. He admits that through Voices in the Maze, a support group, he was able to have a more positive outlook on life and help him cope from day to day.
“[Pattea] speaks of the significance of relationships of people that we have in our life. Some of our relationships are so significant that sometimes we don’t know it until change has happened in our life, until we are forced to find a new normal and that new normal is sometimes very, very difficult. Loss is very difficult,” said Community Health Educator Debbie Manuel.
The closing event at the conference was a panel discussion with four individuals from within the SRPMIC Community: veterans representative and Community member Edward “Pacer” Reina; youth development specialist and parent Doris Morado; firefighter/paramedic and Community member Joan Wood; and behavioral health counselor and service provider Adele Yuth.
Each individual on the panel has dealt with grief in their own way and has also dealt with life-changing situations. Attendees were able to ask each individual questions about dealing with or understanding grief, both personally and professionally.
One question asked was: “Without having experienced a loss so close (i.e., parent/child), how do you console or comfort others who are dealing with this? What is the right thing to say?” Yuth responded, “Tell them you love them and tell them that you care. When dealing with a loss, true love is revealed. Those who truly care and truly love you will come out and show it.”
Another question asked was how first responders deal with grief and loss over and over again. Wood answered, “We are like a family (crew), and we rely on each other every time. Usually we replay the calls in our head and we ask ourselves over and over, Did we do the best we could? What could I have done better? And sometimes we’ll get stuck in that scenario and we’ll keep making it personal. It’s important that we talk it through.”
Attendee Donald Stone said, “This conference was enlightening. It helped me to understand the loss of my friends and my parents. My mother and father passed away this past Thanksgiving, one day apart from each other. This [conference] is making me understand that there are people out there that are willing to help you, and the programs here in Salt River have helped me. Not only this conference, but the Fatherhood Program, Parenthood Program and Behavioral Health Services—they really helped me with the suicide part of it and grieving.”
According to Griefspeaks.com, 8 million people in the United States suffered through the death of someone in their immediate family last year. There were 800,000 new widows and widowers, and 400,000 people under age 25 suffered the death of a loved one. Approximately 1.2 million children will lose a parent to death before age 15, and every 78 seconds a teen attempts suicide—every 90 seconds they succeed.
This all-day conference was an eye-opener for some, and for others a place for hope and support. For more information about this conference, or if you have any questions, call Community Health Educator Debbie Manuel at (480) 362-7689.