“Each year September is Suicide Awareness month; the goal is trying to raise awareness about suicide. We know suicide and mental health in general is very stigmatized, and when we pretend the problem doesn’t exist that furthers the stigma. It decreases people’s ability to reach out.” – MCN Behavioral Health Project Director Tyler Stone
Lani Hansen/Senior Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma– It has been four years since former Principal Chief James Floyd signed a proclamation declaring the week of Sept. 10-16 as Suicide Prevention Week. Although Suicide Awareness Month is set for September, any time of the year people can help prevent suicide.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the 8th leading cause of death within Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.
Muscogee Nation Behavioral Health Project Director Tyler Stone said there is a higher rate of suicides in males across the U.S. men or young boys are not taught at a young age to express their feelings openly. According to Stone, they are taught to keep their feelings down inside, to not bring it up and it is not okay to cry.
“Each year September is Suicide Awareness month,” Stone said. “The goal of that month is trying to raise awareness about suicide. We know suicide and mental health in general is very stigmatized, and when we pretend the problem doesn’t exist that furthers the stigma. It decreases people’s ability to reach out.”
According to Stone, when talking about mental health it is normalizing to say, ‘it’s okay to not be okay.’ For those who are struggling with mental health there is help or resources available.
Stone’s department is dedicated to reducing the frequency of suicide attempts and deaths, and the pain of loss survivors affected by suicide of loved ones through education and prevention programs, research projects, intervention services and bereavement resources.
Some warning signs to look out for if you are worried about a friend who might be struggling: if they are talking about dying, or taking their life, withdrawing from activities, giving away prized possessions or see an increase of alcoholism or drug use, those are some signs. Stone said do not be afraid to ask if they are feeling suicidal.
Stone has seen an increase of people facing stress, anxiety, worrying and depression during the pandemic. He said the pandemic brought and is still bringing uncertainty, fear and losses since last year when the pandemic started especially in the Nation.
“We lost a lot of tribal leaders and elders in our community last year due to the pandemic,” Stone said.
If you are someone who is struggling with mental health and wanting to take charge of it, Stone suggested talking about your feelings with someone you trust whether it is a friend, family member or coworker. Taking care of your physical health as far as good exercise (walking, riding a bike, moving your body) translates into your mental health. Also eating healthy foods and minimizing junk food, staying connected to people and reaching out for help.
“There is no shame in going into counseling,” he said. “One of the cool things I’ve seen this past year, though there is stigma attached to mental health I have seen a lot more people reaching out to me and asking ‘who do you see as a therapist.’ Even though I work in the field of behavioral health, even I need to go to therapy.”
MN Behavioral Health had a couple of events to promote suicide awareness month, on Sept. 8 they had a Social Media Day posting infographics that has positive messages or suicide data rates. Also on Sept. 8, they had a Chalk Event at the Mound for people to do some chalk art to spread the messages of hope and help. On Sept. 9 they provided a virtual training on suicide prevention for any adult on learning to help a friend who is struggling with mental health or suicide. On Sept. 10, they had their suicide awareness walk at the Mound Building to bring the community together to stand in solidarity of suicide awareness and prevention.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255, or text the word ‘Creek’ to 741-741. Or contact MCN Behavioral Health at: 918-758-1910.