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September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

You are important.

Most of us in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community have been affected by suicide, whether it's from the loss of a loved one, a friend or colleague.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the goal is to shed light on this often-misunderstood and taboo topic.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native Americans and Alaska Natives ages 15 to 24, according to the Center for Native American Youth. It’s the eighth leading cause of death for Native Americans and Alaska Natives across all ages. Native teens experience the highest rates of suicide of any population in the U.S.—3.5 times higher than the national average.

However, suicide doesn’t discriminate based on age, sex, religion or race. Suicide is complex. Anyone can be battling suicidal thoughts.

For Native peoples, risk factors include mental health disorders, substance abuse, intergenerational trauma and community-wide issues, according to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

We at Au-Authm Action News want to remind you that you are important. If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, help is out there.

Here are ways to help.

“I survived three suicide attempts”

She’s 27 and a Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member who survived three suicide attempts. She made her first attempt when she was only 13.

This is her story of survival.

What made you feel like the only way out was through suicide?

I just wanted my pain and constant thoughts of trauma to go away. I felt I was better off dead than alive, because there was nothing worth living for at that moment. Also, both of my parents were not active in my life. My father was dealing with his own set of issues due to the death of his wife, and my biological mother was never around—she left when I was a baby. So the constant thought of being alone and no one caring made me feel like it would make things a whole lot better on my family and friends if I just went away for good.

At what point in your life did you realize you needed to reach out for help?

Honestly, I didn’t realize until way later. I coped with my suicidal thoughts through music and listening to certain types of music. I played an instrument for the majority of my life, and I was good at it. I realized it was getting bad when I started to cut, have mood swings and when I [intentionally isolated] myself from others. I pushed a lot of people away because I didn’t trust anyone. Even up to this day, I can count on one hand how many people I trust.

I reached out for help after my third attempt, when I was 22 and a very tragic thing happened to me. I reached out for support from others and people I didn’t really know. I went out on a limb and it felt like gambling because of my trust issues. What I learned is there are people out there that do care and want to help, because they know how it feels and what it’s like to feel like a prisoner in your own mind or to have the feeling of the world on your shoulders.

Do you feel like you have all the resources you need here in the Community to stay mentally healthy?

I honestly do, but I feel it’s not promoted as much as it should be. I also feel like we don’t use it as much as we should. I feel like sometimes our people or family feel like we shouldn’t talk about it or “that’s not our way,” so we don’t speak of it. But at the same time, our people are suffering so much from trauma, addiction and mental illness; it’s slowly taking our people, young and old, one by one. I think we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about things like suicide, because it’s real and it affects everyone in some way, shape or form. I think it’s all provided here for us, but we’re too scared to reach out because of shame, guilt and weakness, or for feeling the way we feel. But we don’t realize when we do try to find help that it’s a form of strength, and we should take pride in that because we come from ancestors who looked out for one another and protected what was sacred, and that’s our people; the blood that runs through our veins is sacred.

What words or actions were you yearning to hear from your friends, family or Community?

I can’t speak for others—everyone will give you different answers—but for me, honestly it was to be loved by someone and to get answers to my many questions. I wanted answers to questions I had asked myself over and over since the moment I could speak as a child. But in all honesty, we may never ever get the answers we desperately want, and if we do we’re privileged enough to have that blessing. I have not gotten the answers to my questions, but I have a feeling I already do know the answers. What I can say is those few words that meant the world to me are “I love you” and “You are loved.” Being a child/adult like me who came from a broken home with other family members who had their own set of issues was hard; you get neglected because we all suffer from trauma. It’s a vicious cycle.

What advice do you have for those who might be considering suicide right now?

Please don’t. You may think it’s hopeless and there’s no end to your sorrow, but there is when you start with self-healing.

A lot of our feelings come from something much deeper than we think, and it starts with ourselves. Seek help from anyone you trust, or call any crisis line close to you. Don’t be ashamed of how you feel, and don’t feel guilty for feeling the way you feel. Talk to someone you trust and say what is bothering you; it will help. Also know that you are truly loved by many, even by those who haven’t met you yet.

All the providers who work in behavioral health do what they do every day because they love you and know what it’s like to feel what you feel. Your family and your Community love you. It may seem dark and stormy, but I promise you the storms don’t last forever and eventually, with your cooperation, everything will be OK.

What advice do you have for those of us who might not know how to approach the situation?

If you feel someone you know and love may be suicidal, approach him or her honestly and gently. Offer that open invitation that you are always there for them if they need someone to talk to. Also, give constant reassurance that you are available to listen. I notice with people who are going through things it doesn’t matter how you go about it, what matters to people is that you’re there and available when you’re needed.

When the person feels safe and comfortable enough to speak with you, talk with them and agree to get a professional to help with the person, to help them with their needs.

Don’t take suicide lightly. We’ve lost too many because we didn’t take them seriously at the moment they felt strong enough to talk to someone, and we just brushed it off.

Why did you choose to keep living?

I chose to live after the first attempt because a family member who walked in prevented me from following through with my suicide attempt.

On the second attempt, I tried and it did not work.

On the third attempt, I was facing a life tragedy where I felt I could not escape and I felt like there was no hope or chance of me ever being happy again. The last attempt was the hardest; it was a battle with my mental health, an actual fight within myself.

I fought to stay alive for my family and my husband. I thought about how hard it would be for my husband and how it would affect him for the rest of his life, and I didn’t want the cycle to continue. I thought about what I could do or who I could turn to, and I reached out. I found an inner peace that helped me for so long and still helps me today. I had to start with the healing of the trauma and pain I was suffering from. I still suffer from my mental illness here and there, but I learn new ways of dealing with my troubles.

What helps me today is I recently found out I am expecting a child in the winter, and I feel so blessed and honored to be a part of something so beautiful. I have a responsibility of giving my child and teaching my child everything of our people and where they come from and to be proud of who we are. I have a purpose as a mother in this world, and I want to live a purposeful life to show them they are important to the world and this Community.

I most importantly chose to live for myself, to live a life full of adventures and surprises and to enjoy each and every experience I have in the world. I’m happy now and I’m glad I started with myself, with the healing of my past, and I learned my past is my past. I am not my past; it’s a part of my life, but it doesn’t completely define me, and I can choose to stay there or learn and heal from it and evolve into who the Creator intended me to be in the world. I’m thankful for my life and I know it’s precious, not just to my family and husband, but to me, because it’s mine and I only get one.

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