What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
My first experience of death by suicide was when I was a child and witnessed my 14-year-old cousin, who died by suicide. I was with my grandmother and she was called to the home of her sister where he was found. I did not understand exactly what had happened, as I was only a child of about 5 or 6 years of age.
Twenty years later, I myself battled the same generational traumas that my young cousin fought. I struggled with crippling issues of self-esteem, racial identity, and depression, which led to substance abuse and suicidal ideations. In 2003, I planned to end my life. Thankfully, I was unsuccessful! My family did know if I was alive, or dead, or kidnapped. Unbeknownst to myself at the time, I was found in my car and taken to the nearest hospital where I was given time to heal, mentally and spiritually. It was not overnight, but with the resources I was given, the support of a local pastor, and the foundation of my Lakota culture as a form of healing, I was able to adapt my lived experiences, advocate in my community, and give back using culture as a form of healing. I’ve learned that my Lakota culture is my healing. My resilience in return is advocating for all my relatives to be able to utilize cultural services and behavioral health services for overall health and wellness.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
While each person’s mental health needs are different, we as humans have a natural need for companionship and love. I needed someone to listen, to be there for me, and to affirm who I was as a young biracial woman who struggled with racial identity. I was given mental health support from a licensed clinical psychologist, cultural spiritual support from a Lakota elder, and spiritual support from a local pastor. My three resources were able to support my mental health needs, because they were able to address separate areas that were the cause of my self-esteem issues, racial identity issues, depression, and substance abuse. Each area of an individual’s mental health needs must be addressed mindfully, respectfully, and with perseverance.
Think about the system that affects our mental health in our society, including aspects that are damaging to mental health and aspects of the system that improve mental health. Based on your experience, how might we improve that system to build resilience and better address the mental health needs of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities?
My lived experience has given me the power to own my resiliency. It has humbled me in a way that I am able to empathize and use mindfulness with my relatives and community as a whole. We have to learn that the American Indian community’s way of healing is through cultural practices such as the Lakota language, Lakota songs, and Lakota prayers and that our people understand what generational traumas are and how to utilize behavioral health resources. Behavioral health services and Lakota cultural practices coupled may help individuals face life’s challenges. Working together in our community and not silos to address mental health challenges is the key to doing more for our families.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
A “wish” for understanding would be: Understanding the culture of a community and addressing the gaps in a community in regard to mental health and substance abuse, which often go hand in hand. Also, for people to understand that it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to admit that you need support. Often we are expected to be strong or resilient, and sometimes people do not understand that there are moments when someone is unable to be resilient.