PITTSFIELD — When someone takes their life, or attempts to, that trauma ripples through their loved ones, the first responders who treat them and their community.
Right now, Berkshire County is hurting from that trauma, and local medical professionals have invited the community to come together to talk about resilience and prevention.
"Unfortunately, we see high numbers of suicide," said Alesha Provencher, an emergency department nurse at Berkshire Medical Center. "It seems like more so recently than ever."
On Monday, BMC emergency room Dr. Chris Barsotti and his colleagues will host a community conversation at the hospital. At the event, health care providers will talk about their experience treating victims of suicide, and survivors likely will share their stories.
Leadership from The American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine and the National Shooting Sports Foundation will attend as well, said Barsotti, who noted that 90 percent of suicide attempts using a gun are successful.
"Suicide is one of the greatest public health issues we face." he said. "Just two days ago, I took care of another suicide patient."
The free event, which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m., is free and open to the public.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Massachusetts residents ages 15 to 34. Last year, the death rate by suicide was 50 percent higher in Berkshire County than the rest of the state, Barsotti said.
The goal of bringing together a broad cross-section of the community is to train it how to identify individuals who might be at risk of an attempt and to share prevention strategies.
After the discussion, an action group will be formed to plan other activities.
Provencher said that caring for a victim of a suicide attempt requires a full care team, including members of the psychiatric unit.
The team works to find out whether there had been any previous attempts, if there is a family history, and a plan and means to carry it out. Then, the group will work to connect the individual to treatment that might be helpful. Sometimes, law enforcement is alerted as well.
After every traumatic incident, the whole care team attends a debriefing. Provencher said she has attended four suicide debriefings this year.
There are a number of factors that contribute to an individual's risk profile for suicide, Barsotti said.
In Berkshire County, there are high rates of poverty, substance use and untreated mental illness. All of these issues contribute to a person's risk profile.
"If you're unemployed, or underemployed, that contributes to your risk profile," Barsotti said. "Mental health does contribute to it. Alcohol and substance problems contribute to it. History of previous violence, being abused, being bullied also contributes to that."
When evaluating someone in crisis, it's also important to find out the method they plan to use and if they have access to a firearm. While nearly all suicide attempts with a gun are successful, Barsotti said, only 10 percent using other means are.
"In rural America, there is a higher amount of gun ownership." he said.
"This summer, we have seen an increased amount of suicide by firearm," Provencher said.
Barsotti said he hopes that with members of the community being more aware of the risk factors for suicide, they will have the tools they need to step in and assist those who are struggling.
"Most suicide attempts are survivable," he said. "Suicide is very treatable and preventable."
While there will be a discussion around firearms as one of many methods to suicide, it will not be a conversation involving gun politics, Barsotti said.
"Because we'll talk about firearms, it's very easy for the conversation to erode into a conversation about gun rights versus gun control. It's not a conversation about gun control and, actually, it's not welcome because it doesn't help," he said.
"The point of this event is to educate ourselves so we can all be empowered to help those in need."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.