Berkshire County — According to Love of T founder Luke Fitzgerald, Berkshire County has the second-highest suicide rate in the state.
“From what I see and understand, there are many people out there who need help with their mental health,” Fitzgerald told The Berkshire Edge. “There’s just not enough places to help them. It’s kind of like the housing situation in the Berkshires where everybody needs adequate housing, but there isn’t enough for the people that are really in need. This is why a lot of people are suffering.”
Fitzgerald cited “a sense of isolation in the Berkshires” as one of many reasons for the high suicide rate. “There’s just a lack of connection, and that’s a big piece of it,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t have as many connections as the more populated areas. There’s just a lot of isolation, loneliness, and a feeling of not having somebody there.”
Closing the gaps in behavioral health care through peer support work is one of the missions of Love of T, a nonprofit group that Fitzgerald founded after his mother, Pittsfield resident Teresa Fitzgerald, died by suicide in May 2021. “‘T’ was my mother’s nickname,” Fitzgerald said. “When I wrote my mother’s obituary, I flipped the page I was writing on in a notebook and I started working on Love of T. What we are doing speaks to who she was because she was always known for being there. She would lend a hand to neighbors, families, and friends. But ultimately, she just didn’t think that anybody could be there for her. We want to carry on her memory of the way she lived and remember her for what she did, not how her life ended. We want to use this organization as a way to hopefully prevent people from meeting the same fate that she did.”
Fitzgerald is currently a case manager with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, and he previously worked with The Brien Center and the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.
The goal of Love of T is to connect “…every single person in Berkshire County who struggles with suicidal thoughts to a certified peer specialist.”
“The two peer specialists we have hired to start with have multiple years of experience,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve worked in some of the hardest places, including crisis centers and hospitals. The hope is that we can [help] the people in our community who struggle with the navigation of daily suicidal thoughts, or if they are dealing with those thoughts for the first time. We want to build a community among people where they can share their pain with each other and listen. We hope that we will be able to lean on each other and have people realize that they are not alone in their battle.”
Fitzgerald said that many of the people who are dealing with mental health issues are not taking the time to address the problems. “When there is an issue for people, a great majority of people would rather just ‘laugh it off’ and be funny or make a joke out of it,” Fitzgerald said. “Alcohol is very prevalent in our society, and a great majority of the population would rather use that. But when you get to a certain point, these things are not a joke. A lot of people have these major issues and never will address them, which is unfortunate. I think the world would be a much better, peaceful place if more people would address their issues.”
The organization will start with two programs on Monday, June 19. The Love of T will hold a drop-in support program every Monday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Billy J’s Elm Street Java House, located at 216 Elm Street in Pittsfield. The organization will also hold an online virtual support program on the same date where residents can remain completely anonymous.
“The reality is that we know that there is a bigger need, and we do hope to grow our programs,” Fitzgerald said. “But for right now, we can start something small that I feel will catch on.”
Fitzgerald added that he hopes that people who need help will not be afraid to contact the organization. “My favorite quote is ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,’” Fitzgerald said. “Whatever troubles somebody is facing, no matter how dark it gets, there’s a beautiful light on the other side. Personally, that’s what I’ve gone through in my life. I believe that anybody can overcome anything, especially when it comes to mental health struggles. It’s painful at first, but it does get better.”
For more information about the Love of T, go to its website.