A coalition of volunteers is holding a public forum tonight in Pittsfield to raise suicide awareness in Berkshire County.
The Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention is holding the first of planned quarterly public meetings tonight in Pittsfield to unite members of the community to discuss and build a strategy to combat suicide at the local level.
Peggy Morse of the Coalition said that suicide is a topic that many adults are usually unwilling to openly discuss.
“There’s also a great deal of stigma too around mental health as opposed to physical health,” said Morse.
The Coalition has held numerous scheduled events throughout the Berkshires since the organization formed in 2009, including a youth suicide prevention conference held last month with partner organizations, including Berkshire Medical Center.
Judy Nardacci, secretary of the Coalition, said that tonight’s meeting hopes to points out to new volunteers several issues about the fact that Berkshire County typically has a higher incidence of self-harm than other areas of the state. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows Western Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 had a suicide rate of 7.6 per 100,000, higher than the 6.7 per 100,000 statewide average.
Nardacci said that the high incidence of suicide among veterans is just one of the issues she’d like to communicate with the public.
“We really need to address that in the county, that it affects every family that has someone in the armed services,” said Nardacci.
The Coalition in the past has also provided training to other regional community organizations about how to discuss the issue of suicide with young people. Kate Merrigan, director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition’s UNITY youth leadership program also recognizes the need for more community training for adults. Merrigan herself was trained by the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention to communicate with teens.
“The reality is kids are dealing with it,” said Merrigan. “I think adults need help learning to be comfortable talking about.”
Judy Nardacci said that because Berkshire County has many small communities, many of which are isolated and lack an adequate public transportation system, it’s important that those intending to raise suicide awareness bring that information back to their communities.
“It’s really critical at this time to make sure that people can get the information from us a do the outreach so some of the smaller areas,” said Nardacci.
The general public and new volunteers are invited to attend tonight’s meeting - "The Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention: A Local Strategy for a National Public Health Issue."
The meeting will be held from 5:30 to 7 pm at the Brien Center, located at 333 East Street in Pittsfield.