Suicide in Native American communities subject of NACA conference

Third annual event takes place July 15-16, open to public

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) will put on a suicide prevention conference at Twin Arrows July 15-16 to educate parents, kids and providers in the community about the issue of suicide as a public health concern, especially in Native communities.

The conference, put on by the Reach UR Life program at NACA, will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Pre-registration is available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/northern-arizona-suicide-prevention-conference-tickets-17031044312.

This is the third year the conference will take place. The Substance Abuse and the Mental Health Services Administration through a Garret Lee Smith grant funds the event. Garret was Sen. Gordon Smith's son, who died by suicide in 2003. Some sessions are specifically for providers in the mental health field, some for youth and some for the community, parents and anyone else, to get information. All sessions are free to attend.

"This is part of our grant, it is one of the things we do not only to do outreach but also to provide education to the community and give them tools and resources to use at home," said Brandy Judson, director of community development at NACA.

Another goal of the conference is to give people and communities tools to use to prevent suicide or programs to deal with the after effect of suicide in a family or in schools. An anti-bullying presentation and a youth empowerment dance will take place.

One of the keynote speakers is nationally known Kevin Berthia, from The Parson's Company, Inc., who will tell his story of surviving suicide. The second keynote speaker is Ian Stanley from Florida State University. He will speak about why people die by suicide. Others speakers are from local guidance centers, from NACA, from the Navajo Nation, crisis response personnel from Tempe and others.

"We have a really good set of individuals, both local and national," said Jacob Kaulaity, mental health specialist for NACA. "We're really excited for this conference."

While NACA has programs in place to respond to people who are contemplating suicide, they also have programs in place to help families, schools and the community deal with issues once a suicide has taken place.

"How does the community respond, how does the agency respond, how does the school respond and then how do we support that family and the greater community that is going though this," Judson said. "It not only includes the support piece but also the appropriate media around a suicide death or attempt so we're protecting the confidentiality of the family and not glorifying the death."

Many factors add to the stress that people who contemplate suicide deal with - from lack of economic opportunity to bullying at school and everything in between.

"I think for youth, for adolescents, the top three are family dynamics, substance abuse and bullying," Kaulaity said.

NACA programs for youth include leadership activities at the juvenile court, boarding schools on the reservation and they are hoping do some at Hopi High School.

"It's spreading out all of those as far as building resiliency, building coping skills for these young kids to be able to know that everything will be fine or them opening up about how they are feeling," Kaulaity said.

He said for Native Americans there is traditional practice to deal with as well.

"It's so stigmatized where you're not supposed to talk about it or they are supposed to just deal with it," Kaulaity said. "Sometimes they don't have those support systems or 'I'm feeling like this, what do I need to do to destress?' Having that mentor or role model or supporter or friend to help them out with that, those are big factors."

Also respect and communication helps some of the kids in the fast paced world they live in, Kaulaity finds. He also finds that looking at suicide prevention in a different way, talking about it in a different ways helps.

"It's about empowerment," he said. "Not only for suicide prevention but for all NACA services, it's about empowerment. It's about turning a negative into a positive, we always say that. So promoting life. Promote life."

In his work with youth at the juvenile corrections center, Kaulaity said kids are dealing with living in a new world that their elders may not understand and those pressures are stressful.

"I put a post on Facebook or I put a picture on Instagram and boom just like that it could just flop," he said. "Or, the whole bullying, 'oh, you're ugly,' downgrading people. It is so instant today compared with [our elders world.] Kids can be mean sometimes."

The leadership programs teach youth how to build resiliency and coping skills as they make choices about their lives.

"All of us go through life with our short term goals but long term every little piece fits into that long term goal, too," Kaulaity said.

More information about the conference is available from Brandy Judson at bjudson@nacainc.org or (928) 526-2968 or at www.nacainc.org.

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