Our Opinion: Casting bright light on suicide prevention
While the statistics on suicide in Berkshire County are discouraging, the response in the Berkshires is encouraging. Help for those suffering considering suicide is available, and the willingness of people to discuss suicide openly is bringing the issue out of the darkness.
Sunday's 3rd annual Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention along the northern end of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail attracted approximately 350 people and raised $57,000, about $7,000 over the goal set by organizers, on behalf of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the various Berkshire agencies dedicated to this cause (Eagle, October 16). The event was coordinated by Bertha Connelley and Lee Watroba of the Austen Riggs Center for psychiatric treatment and care in Stockbridge. On Friday, the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, Berkshire Theatre Group and the state Department of Mental Health presented a screening and discussion of the documentary "The S word," which focuses on survivors of suicide attempts and their families (Eagle, October 14).
Berkshire County had the highest suicide rate in Massachusetts, just under 18 deaths per 100,000 residents, in the most recent year in which statistics were available. There are any number of contributing factors, from opioid addiction, to economic stress, to an isolated elderly population, to those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and face prejudice and ostracism. A vague diagnosis of depression is often all families and friends have to go on after a loved one is suddenly gone — sometimes there is nothing to grab onto by way of explanation.
The title of Friday's documentary alone speaks to the difficulty society has had in dealing with suicide. The shame it has carried with it and the cruel blame game put an extra burden on grieving families and have made it hard to discuss the roots of suicide and how it can be prevented. As long as it is "the S-word," a word that cannot be spoken out loud, society will be paralyzed in dealing with suicide and its ramifications.
That is changing, however, and the stigma is being erased. Survivors, like Peggy Morse, chairwoman of the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, and Veronica and Judith Coty, speak openly about the suicides, of children and siblings and are leaders in the effort to end the shame and help others find help. Parents and family members now mention suicide in Eagle news articles and obituaries. The darkness surrounding suicide has been counterproductive, and the openness of family members in discussing it is bringing in the light.
This new openness will make it easier for those contemplating suicide, and their friends and families, to seek help from the local agencies eager to provide it. They include the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service (800-252-0227 for emergency help), Berkshire Medical Center Psychiatry & Behavioral Health's mental health clinic (413-447-2167) and the National Alliance for Mental Illness of Berkshire County (413-443-1666).
We can all play our part by refusing to fuel the stigma that has prevented too many from seeking help and moving forward with their lives.
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