“In that hopelessness and despair, I thought there was no way out, made a suicide attempt.” – Chickasaw Nation citizen and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Suicide Prevention Program Manager Shelby Rowe
Keynote speaker shares story of recovery, healing
TULSA, Oklahoma — Overwhelmed, hopelessness and in pain were the words Chickasaw Nation citizen Shelby Rowe said she felt while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She began dealing with PTSD in 2010 and felt she would never come out of it.
“In that hopelessness and despair, I thought there was no way out, made a suicide attempt,” she said.
Rowe works for Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services as the Suicide Prevention Program manager.
She shared her story during the second annual Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health Hope Conference held Sept. 4-6 at River Spirit Casino in Tulsa. MCNDH Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Services sponsored the event.
Fortunately, Rowe woke up from the attempt and felt one of the things she needed to do was reconnect with family.
“I needed to see my purpose again in my role in my family and as a Native woman in my community,” Rowe said. “Also, to rebuild and heal.”
Rowe said she changed several things in her life to improve it.
“I changed my circle of friends to where I lived and what I did for a living,” she said. “I reconnected with my Chickasaw heritage and learning more about my family.”
Acting Program Director of the Suicide Prevention Grant for MCNDH, Jill Sago said the goal of this year’s conference is to inform the public about the prevalence of suicide in Oklahoma.
“And around the country,” she said.
Sago said the state of Oklahoma has the eighth highest ranking in suicide rate per 100,000 people.
“Suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death in the country,” she said.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Sept. 9-15 was National Suicide Prevention Week.
Sago said there are many risk factors for Native youth.
“Many having to do with historical trauma, inter-generational trauma and family trauma,” she said. “Trauma of any kind is one of the leading factors.”
Sago said it is hard to spot the signs on some individuals who are suicidal. BHS is getting out to the communities to spread awareness.
“We are training community members and professional staff,” she said. “Our focus is to get as many people as possible trained to identify those who might be at risk.”
She said those identifications can be done through screening and through public education.
“We really are helping people to get the conversation started regarding suicide because it is such a difficult topic,” Sago said. “A lot of people want to sweep it under the rug and not discuss it.”
Sago said people in the past were worried that talking about suicide would cause those who are at-risk to follow through. She said that is not the case.
“Most of the time, people who are at-risk want to talk about it,” she said. “They don’t know how to start the conversation.”
Sago said a simple greeting could help someone.
“It could save a life,” she said.
Rowe was at the conference to share her story of recovery, growth and healing following her attempt.
“I was honored to be a keynote speaker,” she said.
Rowe said she hopes there are more people like her that will share their stories.
“If they can share their stories of healing, the wisdom and knowledge that they have could help someone else during their troubling times,” she said.
She said suicide has affected a lot of families but Native culture has always showed resilience and strength.
“That is just as much a part of our narrative,” Rowe said.
Rowe said she had people who listened to her story, come up to her to their own.
“And they want to share their recovery story,” Rowe said. “I can see them being proud of their recovery.”
Eight years after Rowe’s attempt, sharing her recovery and hearing people share theirs with her, she has three new words that describes her life now.
“Purposeful, hopeful and connected,” Rowe said.
If there is someone that needs help or someone to talk to or if anyone reading this article feels alone, there are people out there that will listen and help. Contact the Crisis Text Line by texting the word ‘Creek’ to 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).