Hope and healing after suicide

By Kristel Nielsen

This article comes from Guidepoints News from NADA Summer 2020 Issue. Sign-up to receive Guidepoints in your inbox quartlery. The Guidepoints newsletter is the only publication devoted to the sharing and dissemination of our NADA work on an international scale. Become a member to opt-in for a print copy. Check-out past issues.

Many suicide loss survivors have post-traumatic stress disorder and disenfranchised grief, and it is difficult for them to find help. It is especially difficult to find help for child survivors of suicide. For me, the co-founder of Your Art Your Story (YAYS), suicide is very personal. I have lost three family members to suicide, including my father and my son, Story.

After my son’s death, I wanted to do something to support families affected by suicide. I found research showing that creativity helps reduce stress, and I consulted with other organizations that successfully used creative expression to help people cope with trauma in non-clinical settings–including suicide loss survivors, veterans, foster kids and incarcerated youth. My research led me to start an organization called Your Art Your Story. Our organization supports suicide loss survivors and attempt survivors through art and community.

One participant said the program is her lifeline and brought her out of a very dark place.

In 2017, I received seed funding from Arizona State University and then approached the Arizona Artists Guild about partnering to develop an art program –one that blended the benefits of support groups with creative expression to help people who had experienced trauma to feel supported and not alone.

Another thing that makes YAYS programming different from traditional support groups is that it addresses intergenerational trauma caused by suicide and mental health issues, by serving generations–from grandparents to grandchildren. Every month is a different project, so participants can experience different mediums and processes. Some of the projects have been bookmaking, watercolor painting, acrylic paint pour and memory boxes.

Our greatest success is hearing from people helped by the art program. We love hearing how it has impacted their lives. One participant said the program is her lifeline and brought her out of a very dark place. The art programs help people get relief from stress and a distraction from pain, and it gives them an opportunity to make new friends. Also, they can create something beautiful and feel a sense of accomplishment–they can take something home and say,“I made this and it is beautiful.”

In recent months, like everything else responding to cultural shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group now meets online. The results have been extraordinary, with participants joining from across the country. The group continues to meet regularly and is open to anyone who has been impacted by suicide, including loss survivors, attempt survivors, their supportive friends and family, and people who work or volunteer with survivors. We also send free art supplies to anyone who wants to participate but does not have access to supplies. You can find out more and register for upcoming classes on our website.

September was national suicide prevention awareness month and our contribution to the national conversation was UNSPOKEN: Survivor Stories, a group exhibition of work by artists affected by suicide. Our goal was to promote a greater understanding of the Commented [JL1]: Pull-out quote survivor experience and to emphasize hope and growth–and to celebrate the strength of survivors.

But, we also wanted to raise awareness about the needs of survivors and to reach more people who may need resources for themselves or loved ones. The exhibition was at a gallery and, as a sign of the times, the exhibition was also posted online. The gallery followed CDC guidelines and limited the number of people who could attend in person. We had 75 people visit the gallery, and nearly 2,000 people visited the online exhibit. We hope to make this an annual event, because art is such a powerful way to raise awareness about our experience as survivors.

I created a series of Grief Doodles for the exhibition, and one of my doodles illustrates “Things that helped me cope from suicide grief.” Acupuncture is on the list! After my son died, I received several treatments at Phoenix Community Acupuncture and these treatments helped me to relax and visualize healing. In 2019, I was introduced to NADA and started training in the NADA protocol. Although I don’t yet practice the protocol in a clinical setting, I use it on myself and really notice the benefits. I believe the NADA protocol is a powerful tool for bereavement support and would like to connect with practitioners who have employed it–using needles and/or seeds and magnetic beads–in grief support settings.

How to participate:

Learn more here.

How to help:

We are grateful to receive donations to fund art kits for participants who do not have access to basic art supplies at home. We are also grateful to receive donations of artwork to auction in order to raise funds.  If you would like to inquire about making a donation, please contact us.