For World Suicide Prevention Day, local advocates tout resources available in the Berkshires


Heidi Riello has seen a change on campus.

The director of Counseling Services at MCLA in North Adams, Riello works with a full-time clinician, two part-time clinicians and a staff psychiatrist to provide on-campus support.

Last year, the team served 265 students through counseling and support services, about 14 percent of the campus population. Riello said those seeking help included both students seeking support for themselves as well as those seeking to help a friend or loved one.

"We get a combination of students coming in about matters related to developmental, academic, social and relationship issues as well as those who are experiencing mental health issues related to trauma, acute anxiety, depression and other symptoms," she said on Tuesday, which was World Suicide Prevention Day.

Riello said it's not unusual for a students walking into the center to disclose that they have received counseling in the past.

Removing that stigma, experts say, is key in efforts to reduce suicide. In the Berkshires, and across the globe, mental health workers and volunteers aim to get the word -- and resources -- out into communities that no one should be ashamed for having suicidal thoughts or for seeking help.

According to the World Health Organization website, "suicide is complex with psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors involved."

Suicide significantly impacts the world population, with nearly one million people dying from suicide each year. That's a mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100,000 people, or one death every 40 seconds.

Back in the spring, the state Department of Public Health reported that, based on preliminary data, there were 553 suicides that occurred in Massachusetts in 2011. That number of suicides was about 2.7 times higher than the number of reported homicides in the state.

Suicide, however, is considered a mental health matter, meaning many of the causes of suicidal thoughts in a person can often be prevented and treated.

In Berkshire County, more resources are becoming available to educate community members and support both people in crisis and those trying to support loved ones at risk of committing suicide.

Volunteers ranging from public health and human service providers to law enforcement and concerned individuals are all working together on a number of projects, including:

n Planning a Nov. 15 conference specifically related to the mental health and well-being of military veterans scheduled to be held at the Crowne Plaza;

n Developing comprehensive suicide prevention programs with local schools;

n Planning a conference to discuss issues facing members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) community with regard to their mental health and well-being.

"I think the biggest reason we're doing all this is to just try to reduce the rates of suicide in our community, as well as destigmatizing mental health struggles," said Bear McHugh, coordinator of the Youth Suicide Prevention Project of the Berkshire Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and member of the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

"Just reaching out to people and letting them know they're not alone and that people care about them is huge," he said. "The primary culprit of suicide is people not knowing this, not feeling that way, and that's very treatable."

One way of better reaching out to people is by understanding and addressing specific needs of specific demographic groups. Currently in Berkshire County and across the state, programs are being developed and implemented specifically for veterans, the elderly, youth and teens, the LGBTQ community, men, survivors of attempted suicide and people coping with the loss of someone through suicide.

On Tuesday, the Counseling Services Center at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts set up a booth in the Amsler Campus Center where students could casually stop by, ask questions, take printed information, and also write positive and generally encouraging messages on a banner that will be hung for students to see in the counseling center.

For students and campus staff members who don't want to stop by the center in person, the Counseling Services department also offers a bounty of online resources on its website (
mb), such as an online mental health screening; guides for parents, faculty and staff, as well as prevention training program information regarding suicide and sexual assault.

Help is available

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are resources to get help:

Locally: The Brien Center Crisis Hotline (24/7): (800) 252-0227

Nationally: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)

For hard of hearing/deaf, veterans: 800-799-4889

Chat online:

More information:,

For a list of additional resources and suicide prevention programs in the Berkshire region, visit

The services of the Berkshire AHEC Youth Suicide Prevention Project are available at no charge. For more information, contact Bear McHugh at or (413) 447-2417.


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