May is nationally recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, and mental health advocates in the Berkshires are becoming involved to educate the public about the resources available for those living with mental illness.
As part of a way to draw attention to mental illness is his local community, North Adams mayor Richard Alcombright recently called together a discussion with mental health professionals and representatives of area mental health service providers.
"Really what we wanted do this week was to get out some awareness and get it going," said Alcombright.
Alcombright, who proclaimed this week Children’s Mental Health Awareness week in North Adams at an April city council meeting, also sits on the Northern Berkshires Systems of Care Committee, one of several such groups across the state. Alcombright said that it’s important that individuals dealing with mental illness in their daily lives be aware of their local services.
"It's kind of a strange world out there in mental health, but the resources that we have are very, very, very good," said Alcombright. "The first step is...making appointments or talking with professionals and finding out ways to help your child or finding ways for an adolescent to help themselves."
The three Berkshire Systems of Care Committees are organized out of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Pittsfield. Committees are also held in Central and Southern Berkshire County.
Jim Mucia, Director for the Child and Adolescent Division at the Brien Center, said that the large geographic size of Berkshire County accounts for the three smaller committees, but also a host of challenges.
“Berkshire County absolutely has a unique geographic issue, there's just no question about it," said Mucia. "You have to drive to get any kind of care, really."
Mucia said that Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week is an opportunity to communicate to the public and to local leaders about the need for more mental health funding, in Western Massachusetts and beyond.
"I would wish that mental health services would come to the forefront and take it's rightful, equal place alongside medical care," said Mucia.
Annie Rodgers, a member of the Northern Berkshire systems of Care Committee and a program coordinator at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said that communities can take their own steps to meet some of their mental health needs. She invited the public to attend any of the Northern Berkshire Systems of Care Committee meetings, which are held on the third Friday of every month.
Rodgers said that she would also hope that adolescents and young people become involved in their communities to address mental health issues.
"Our young people really are our future and to get them to take hold of that is a really powerful and wonderful things in the community," said Rodgers.
Also this month at Pittsfield’s 3rd Thursday street festival, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Berkshire County will be holding its 8th Annual Walk for Mental Health Awareness.
For more information:
NAMI Berkshire County:
Northern Berkshire Early Intervention Program:
The Brien Center:
The Family Place
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition:
Northern Berkshire Systems of Care Committee:
Annie Rodgers can be reached at 413-663-7588 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Berkshire Area Health Education Center: