Addressing Suicide on the Local, State, and National Level



Whether working locally with suicide prevention organizations, presenting at conferences, or contributing to the larger field of suicidology through research and scholarship, the Austen Riggs Center and its staff are committed to better understanding and preventing suicide.

Through the Suicide Research and Education Strategic Initiative, Riggs is extending its efforts to study the process of suicide, as individual, interpersonal, developmental, biological, sociocultural, and psychological phenomena. Several recent presentations highlight ways in which we are helping to extend our knowledge and expertise. For example, Jane G. Tillman, PhD, ABPP, Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute for Education and Research and initiative leader, has been invited to several Veterans’ Affairs (VA) locations in the region to speak about “The Effect of Patient Suicide on Clinicians and Organizations.” Suicide rates among veterans are continuing to climb and are now higher than the rate of suicide in the general population. Tillman remarks, “Our country owes our veterans good health care and it is clear that the VA is dedicated to addressing the increasing rate of suicide – both in terms of the veterans who are at risk and those in the VA who work with them.” In addition, Dr. Tillman, along with Associate Medical Director/Director of Biopsychosocial Advocacy Eric M. Plakun, MD, presented “Responding to the Impact of Suicide on Clinicians” at the 2017 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting.

At the same time, two members of the Riggs staff, Director of Human Resources Bertha Connelley, PHR, and Erikson Institute Program and Community Outreach Manager Lee Watroba, are leading efforts to engage our staff with suicide prevention and advocacy on the local and regional levels. Their efforts include involvement in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention (BCSP), which is part of a regional network of coalitions in Massachusetts.

  Austen Riggs Center Participates in Berkshire County Out of Darkness Walk.      Austen Riggs Center Participates in Berkshire County Out of Darkness Walk.   

For example, Connelley and Watroba were recently named to the BCSP Board and are co-chairing the 2017 AFSP Berkshire County Out of Darkness Walk on October 15, 2017. Last year, this event raised nearly $40,000 for suicide prevention. To register for or donate to this year’s walk, visit the Berkshire County Walk page. In addition, they attended the AFSP 12th Annual Chapter Leadership Conference and participated in the Massachusetts State Advocacy Day, helping to educate elected officials “about suicide prevention and promoting policies that will save lives and create a culture that’s smart about mental health.” Watroba remarks, “My involvement in suicide prevention is a natural offshoot of my work here at Riggs in the Erikson Institute. As a member of the Austen Riggs community, I have seen the impact that suicide has on everyone. My extended family has dealt with suicide loss as well, and any part I can play in trying to provide help for people who are struggling is important to me.” 

Further, Connelley and Watroba completed Mental Health First Aid training, and Connelley attended both a safeTALK Training for Trainers (T4T) to be able to provide suicide alertness education in the local community, and also an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) to obtain knowledge to identify people with thoughts of suicide and to help them to develop a safety plan. Connelley remarks, “I am involved with suicide prevention because it matters. Suicide has touched my life. My father, brother, and possibly my oldest son died from suicide. Each had struggled through life with bouts of serious depression. Suicide wasn’t something we talked about in my family and yet it was powerfully present. I believe that if more people are aware, alert, and intervene we can reduce or even stop suicide. I am proud to be a part of efforts that make a difference.”  

Related Reading

Strategic Initiatives: Suicide Research and Education

Understanding Self-Destructive Impulses in Daily Life

Community Engagement