Chickasaw citizen Michelle Byars has experienced her share of heartache. After losing her son Rusty to suicide 11 years ago, she kept that grief inside.

“I was one of those people who didn’t want to talk about it,” she admitted. “It was my business. It was my story. People didn’t need to know about it.”

The Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training offered by the Chickasaw Nation helped shift Byars’ perspective on sharing her experience.

The two-day training helps participants learn how to recognize individuals at risk, intervene and help prevent immediate risk of suicide.

“I took one of those classes [ASIST] a year ago, and it has really helped me open up. It has helped me get my son’s story out. It’s been 11 years too long for me not to tell his story,” Byars said.

Her journey has been tough and is still ongoing, yet Byars has surpassed another stepping stone by sharing her story, helping others and being willing to listen to others.

“When my father was sick he said, ‘There are going to be days you’ll cry, but don’t get stuck there, don’t get stuck in mourning.’” she said.

In November, Byars shared Rusty’s story at the Love Lives On event, a time for suicide survivors to gather together and remember family and friends who have died by suicide.

After opening up at the event, she now hopes to continue sharing his story.

“I came back and felt like I needed to do that. It had been 11 years too long not to do something like that. I felt like I reached out to people,” she said.

“It’s OK to speak about it. It’s OK to talk about it. It’s not a hush-hush thing. It’s a mental illness.”

Staying strong

Although many years have passed, the memory of her son hasn’t faded.

The aftermath of Rusty’s suicide led to Byars’ discovery he had been experiencing various personal problems.

“I had no signs,” she said. “He was always so happy. He was popular. I didn’t see it.”

With a younger son, Jordan, Byars knew she couldn’t let grief overtake her. During the initial time after she lost her son, family was vital.

“I have another son, and I have to realize life does go on,” Byars reflected. “I come from a strong family. And a strong religion. My family supported me.”

The grief of losing someone doesn’t disappear, no matter how much time passes.

“There are days I feel like I’m going to fall apart, and there are days I do fall apart,” she said. “But, I have to pick myself up … There are days I have to be strong for my son, and there are days he has to be strong for me. We both have to go through it daily. It’s a daily struggle for both of us. We both have to keep going.”

Keep going. Byars consistently reminds herself to push through each day, to find new hope and positivity.

Increasing awareness

Suicide has commonly been regarded as a taboo topic. Many feel as if they can’t talk about it, instead bottling up their grief.

Now, events and classes offer an outlet for those who have attempted taking their life or lost someone to suicide.

Byars encourages those affected to talk to others.

“Find a support group,” she said. “Any type of support group. It doesn’t even have to be a group. It could be a friend. You need someone to talk to at all times.”

For more information on Chickasaw Nation Prevention Services, contact (580) 436-7212. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Chickasaw nation

prevention services

Chickasaw Nation Prevention Services offers classes to bring awareness to the early warning signs of mental health problems and suicide intervention.

Prevention services will host an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 and 16 at the Tishomingo Health Clinic, 817 E. Sixth St., Tishomingo.

ASIST is a two-day training that supplies those in helping roles with professional development to prepare them to provide suicide first aid help.

Many people considering suicide share their distress and intent with others. Appropriate training can help respond to these invitations for support.

SafeTALK classes teach participants to provide practical help to persons with thoughts of suicide. SafeTALK is a half-day alertness training that prepares anyone over the age of 15, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper.

The class will prepare participants to identify individuals struggling with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first aid resources.

To register, contact prevention services at (580) 421-8734 or PreventionServices@Chickasaw.net.