Updated: Jan 22
The Mental Wellness Gathering, "Suicide Prevention and Harm Reduction" took place on January 11, 2020 at Rudy Ortega Sr. Park in the San Fernando Valley (Tataviam Territory). It was the third gathering which is part of a series organized by the Indigenous Circle of Wellness and funded by the Department of Mental Health.
The moment I arrived, I was welcomed with the beautiful sounds of the drums as I walked through the park- towards the community room.
After helping set up, I sat on a rock under the warmth of the sun. I felt held. Like the sun was hugging me with its rays.
At that moment, I facetimed my older sister as my niece was turning 6 months and she was going to try real comida for the first time after being breastfed since she was born.
My nieces birth has brought so much LIFE to our family.
The gathering opened with a blessing, land acknowledgment, and prayer. This was followed by a short knowledge share on suicide prevention and harm reduction. You can find some notes on what was shared by Monique Castro, Founder and CEO of Indigenous Circle of Wellness, below.
STATISTICS ON SUICIDE
- Suicide is the act of taking one's own life.
- Suicide is an epidemic as it is a leading cause of death.
- According to a study that was done across 18 states between 2003 to 2014 which was published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Journal, American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest rates of suicide among any racial/ethnic group in the United States and the rates have been increasing since.
- In a recent study done by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 29.3% of American Indian/Alaska Natives in Los Angeles County have ever thought about committing suicide in comparison to 7.6% of the overall county population.
- Additionally 42.2% of American Indian/Alaska Native women have ever thought about committing suicide compared to the 7.7% of other women in Los Angeles County.
DEBUNKING MYTHS ABOUT SUICIDE
Myth 1: Talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide
"The fact is that there is a widespread stigma associated with suicide and as a result, many people are afraid to speak up about it. Talking about suicide not only reduces the stigma, but it also allows individuals to seek help, rethink their options and share their stories with others".
Myth 2: Suicide only affects individuals with a Mental Health Condition
"The fact is that many people with mental health illnesses are not affected by suicidal thoughts and not all that attempt or die from suicide have diagnosable mental illnesses. Other life stressors can also be associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts".
Myth 3: Once an individual is suicidal, they will always remain suicidal
"Active suicidal ideation is often short term and situation specific. The act of suicide is often an attempt to control deep painful emotions and thoughts an individual is experiencing. Once these thoughts dissipate, so will the suicidal ideation. This is why support is so important".
Myth 4: Most suicide attempts happen suddenly, without warning
"The fact is warning signs, verbally or behaviorally, precede most suicides. Thus, it is important to understand the warning signs".
Myth 5: People who die from suicide are selfish and take the easy way out
"The fact is people typically do not die by suicide because they do not want to live. People die by suicide because they want to end their suffering. These individuals are suffering so deeply that they feel helpless and hopeless. Individuals who experience suicidal ideation do not do so by "choice". They are not simply thinking about themselves, but rather they are going through a serious mental health symptom due to their illness and or life situation".
- Self harm is hurting oneself on purpose.
- Ie: cutting, burning, hitting, picking skin, pulling hair, biting, carving, and drug/alcohol abuse
- Self harm is not a mental illness though it is associated with several illnesses.
- Self harm is not the same as being suicidal; however, this behavior indicates that someone is in pain and in need for release, healthier coping mechanisms, and support.
- According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use- which is now used more widely for other self harm behaviors.
- Harm reduction is also a movement for social justice on the belief in and respect for the rights of people.
- The harm reduction approach incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence. This approach recognizes that it is hard to stop right away and there are steps towards recovery.
There is a need for "focused, yet comprehensive suicide prevention and intervention efforts that incorporate culturally relevant, evidence based strategies at the individual, interpersonal and community level". This is precisely what the Indigenous Circle of Wellness offered through this Mental Wellness Gathering.
Following the knowledge share, we got to hear the testimonies of a family who had lost their daughter to suicide. This was incredibly heartbreaking and really hit home. It's one thing to hear statistics and another to listen to a personal story as it humanizes this agonizing reality. Though they wish they could have saved their daughter, they have dedicated their life to Suicide Prevention in her honor.
We then transitioned outdoors for a Healing Circle and Ribbon Ceremony which I had the immense honor to support Carlos Lomadrid in. We set up the altar and Carlos opened up the space as I smudged the circle.
The space we all created together was incredible. It was hard to even find the words to express what had come up for me. Particularly because of my experiences with suicidal ideation and self harm. Most recently, I had gotten to a really scary place in my life where all I wanted was to no longer be in pain. I couldn't fathom the idea of continuing to suffer. To be in a space where we could openly talk about this topic without shame nor judgment...
I felt deep gratitude for my existence in this world and that of the people I shared space with. I am here. We are here. i felt seen.
At the close of the gathering, two elders approached me as they said they felt called to me out of everyone who attended. I was in complete disbelief. They delivered powerful messages to me, shared so much wisdom, and confirmed my gifts in ways unimaginable.
"You are a medicine woman, a healer"
I lost track of time and space. At that point everyone was gone. I felt so present. I was in shock. I am still processing a lot of what was shared and everything that followed...
I was in tears the entire way home.
Sending you all soooooo much love!
Un Fuerte Abrazo,
Musica: Glow Up by Oshun
Indigenous Circle of Wellness