Monday September 17, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week and advocates worked from the Berkshires to Boston to bring the topic of suicide out of the darkness of stigma and into the light of awareness.

"Our nation has sort of re-evaluated its strategy for prevention," said Peggy Morse, a member and leader for the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

U.S. health officials said nearly 100 people every day commit suicide, and many more attempt it. The military has seen an alarming increase in suicides this year, according to the Associated Press.

The federal government announced last Monday it will boost staff by 50 percent at the national hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK -- that’s open to both members of the military and civilians. The government has provided $55.6 million for state and local programs, and highlighted Facebook features that link distressed users to counselors.

New public service announcements are also urging people to seek help if they spot signs that someone is suicidal.

Also on Monday, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, along with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin released a document known as the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, which contains strategies for both citizens and clinicians in addressing what is considered a matter of public health.

As Benjamin said, "Preventing suicide is everyone’s business."

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention (MCSP) held its annual kick-off breakfast at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, with Sen.


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Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) as its guest speaker.

Jennifer Kelliher, managing director for MCSP, said that the coalition now has six categories of regional coalition chapters and community coalitions, including the Berkshire coalition. She said that the groups are collectively in the process of "identifying gaps" in support services and resources, from classroom education programs to clinical outreach. Priorities also include advocating for state funding, working to evaluate the state’s strategic plan for suicide prevention, and to expand and support membership.

"Fortunately, Massachusetts is the highest per capita in state funding and our suicide rates are among the lowest in the nation, ranking 48th out of 50 states and the Washington District of Columbia," Kelliher said.

Still, suicide looms in Massachusetts. Kelliher said that the 2010 data just came out, revealing that 600 people died by suicide in Massachusetts in 2010. During fiscal 2010, more than 11,000 reported self-inflicted injuries resulted in either extended hospital stays or emergency room visits.

Kelliher said those suicide rate figures were up from 2009, and indicate an increase in completed suicides among white, middle-aged men.

Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention member Peggy Morse said that Berkshire County also reflects the middle-age trend in suicide rates, and that youth suicides and military/veteran suicides are also of great concern locally.

According to 2010 data for Massachusetts, four suicides were reported among youths ages 0 to 14, while 78 of the suicide deaths were among people ages 15 to 24.

More than half of the people who committed suicide in Massachusetts had a mental health illness, such as depression.

That is why, Morse said, the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention is working to partner with more organizations. It is in the process of applying for a $15,000 grant from the MCSP for fiscal 2013, which would double its current allocation.

The coalition also meets monthly with the Berkshire Medical Center psychiatry department to partner on suicide prevention strategies; BMC is also a fiscal partner.

"One of the huge things that is happening in the Berkshires is providing wraparound programs and getting people involved in their own care," Morse said. "If we’re all working together, the more likely we are to help people get through the system to get care that they need," Morse said.

Materials from the Associated Press were used in this story.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink