FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) REACH UR Life program offers a peer-to peer support group and training to help Native Americans who are dealing with the effect of suicide.
According to REACH UR Life's website, in 2009, 1,060 people died by suicide in Arizona. Coconino County had a suicide rate nearly twice Arizona's number in 2009.
REACH UR Life, a program that started in 2011 and whose grant focus is suicide, treats suicide as a preventable public health issue with three components: prevention, intervention and postvention.
Emmy Burruel, program specialist for REACH UR Life, said that postvention after a suicide is just as important as prevention of suicide.
"After a person has passed, how do we move forward?" Burruel asked. "Until someone experiences the loss of a loved one to suicide, you begin to see how postvention now becomes prevention."
Burruel leads REACH UR Life's peer-to-peer support group, which meets twice a month for individuals who have lost loved ones to suicide. Survivors gather to learn and talk with people who have gone through the same thing. Most important though, is the connection the peer group provides.
"Going through an experience like this you begin to realize that listening goes a long way, or being a shoulder for someone to cry on, you really begin to see what you hadn't seen before," Burruel said. "We're social creatures, we like to be with others and sometimes if we're in the same type of category, like survivors, we can learn from each other."
Burruel said it is important to remember that the loss of a person in your life makes you vulnerable. And with the holidays coming up it is important to help individuals understand what can help them get through difficult times when the loss is so much more apparent.
"Everyone grieves differently," Burruel said. "You don't ever forget the event, you don't ever fully recover, but you learn how to find a new normal, a new way to survive and sometimes, for a lot of individuals, they need support."
"Being Native American impacts heavily on the grieving process, with culturally defined grief customs that sometimes are not long enough to deal with issues that are left with the survivors. But REACH UR Life is there to support cultural traditions and support Native Americans with non-traditional methods.
She added,"We want to go forward but a lot of times there are memories and emotions that are present, that becomes, 'What do we do now? Tradition tells me I am not supposed to still be grieving, I'm supposed to be moving forward so how do I do this?'"
The key is remembering that there are people who want to help and understand the experience, no matter how hard it is to reach out for help.
"You don't want to feel alone, you want to walk through this journey and there are survivors who want to help," Burruel said. "If we can learn to say, 'I'm here for you' or 'I just need you to sit with me', or 'I need someone to listen,' the peer to peer support group is here to help you walk through this unexpected journey."
Another postvention activity that the group provides is a training called CONNECT. CONNECT helps community organizations like law enforcement, hospitals, schools and parent organizations build a strategy in the event of a sudden death to provide support to those affected by the incident. The training helps answer questions, and build a protocol so that responders can provide support. REACH UR Life plans to provide these trainings once a month in a three-hour workshop.
REACH UR Life also offers free trainings on suicide prevention, which helps people recognize someone who may be experiencing thoughts of suicide and connects them with someone who can help. The workshops offered are safeTALK (suicide awareness is for everyone), for three hours, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) a two-day training that includes how to help a person in need directly and how to help the person at risk keep themselves safe.
The program also offers mental health screenings for youth, ages 11-18 years old. Schools along with parents can work with the group to screen students, or parents can bring their child in on a walk-in basis.
A grass roots community coalition, the Northern Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition, helps support REACH UR Life and the members come from all over Northern Arizona. The Coalition advocates to educate its communities about the risk of suicide, help share information and resources, and transform their communities to be safer from suicide
More information about REACH UR Life is available at (928) 526-2968 or at www.reachurlife.com.