New England Newspapers
PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will host a professional development forum for local high school educators on preventing teen suicide.
The third leading cause of death of people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, Berkshire County is not immune to teen suicide, according to the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention. Locally, between 2004 and 2008, a total of 762 youths were hospitalized after harming themselves, and six families lost a young member to suicide.
Since youths spend most of their time in school and in school-related activities, the coalition felt that reaching out to school officials and teachers would be the best place to take initiative on the issue. The forum, which is not open to the public, is on Tuesday at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.
"In my profession, I hear stories about teen depression and suicide attempts all the time," said Pamela Morehouse, a psychiatric clinical social worker at Berkshire Medical Center. "As a group, we thought, wouldn’t it be nice if every school was on the same page and had the same protocol."
The issue for the community is prevention -- "it’s not just about post-[suicide] support," said coalition member Peggy Morse.
Morse’s son, Bryan Michael Gajdarik, took his own life in June of 1997; he had just turned 16. Morse also
After reading, seeing and hearing about youth suicides due to bullying and depression in the state, the Berkshire County Red Cross Youth Leadership Group has also begun to take a stance on the issue: one of supporting fellow students.
"There’s a lot of loneliness," said Shannon Moon, a Taconic High School sophomore. Most of the group’s members are from Taconic.
"A lot of families don’t talk about it," said Brittany Nicholson, a Taconic senior.
They believe teen suicides happen for a number of reasons: bullying and harassment over the Internet and through cell phones, pressure from families and school work, to becoming overwhelmed by smaller negative things mounting up.
Many members of the youth group felt that teens contemplating suicide often don’t seek help from anyone because they feel the matter is socially stigmatized or that they just don’t know where to find help.
Some group members have started handing out resource cards printed by the Berkshire Area Health Education Center.
Other students, like Taconic freshman Brandon Griffin said both his peers and adults should be more mindful about saying something negative to someone. "You never know how far that will go," he said.
Said Nicholson, "The most important thing for people to know is that it’s OK to talk and that you’re not alone. There are people here who will bring you up."
In the fall of 2008, the state health department was given a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to target and reduce the rate of suicide and self-injury among young people ages 10 to 24 years old in the areas of Berkshire County, Cape Cod and surrounding islands and North Central portion of the state.
Thus, the Youth Suicide Prevention Project was formed in partnership with the coalition through the Berkshire Area Health Education Center (AHEC).