The Skyline Traverse is a point-to-point trail in Boulder renowned for its vertical ascents and the reward of summiting five peaks. More than 18 miles long with 5,417 feet of ascent, it’s not a trail for the faint of heart or out of shape.
Bill Briggs knows the traverse well.
“You’re out there and it starts to get painful, and you have to push through it and keep going,” said the longtime runner and Boulder resident. “And then the cause comes to mind immediately. It’s not like I think of one person, but the overall crisis is what really concerns me the most.”
The overall crisis Briggs is referring to is suicide.
In 2020, 66 people in Boulder County took their own lives, a 10% increase over the year before and an average of more than one life a week.
As of May of this year, emergency rooms in Boulder County have reported a 50% increase in young people between the ages of 10 and 17 experiencing suicidal ideation, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health.
Suicidal ideation is a concise term summarizing a complicated journey that leads a person to the last resort consideration of taking their own life.
A report from Mental Health Partners uses words such as “alarming,” “staggering” and “devastating” to describe the statistics.
In July, many communities statewide, including those in Boulder County, announced the start of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, formerly the National Suicide Hotline. It’s a 24/7 phone, text, or chat lifeline for a person in crisis, not unlike the 911 emergency number for a fire or accident.
In synch with the 988 start, MHP announced its fifth annual MHP Community Challenge campaign for suicide prevention education.
The challenge raises money through in-person and virtual events, which include a bicycle event and oxymoronic couch challenge, and culminates with the Skyline Traverse Trail Challenge on Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day. MHP’s fundraising goal this year is $50,000.
“As the number of suicides in Boulder and Broomfield counties continue to increase, it’s more important than ever to invest in community awareness and education,” said Cindy Cohagen, director of community relations and philanthropy at MHP. “We can all help avoid these tragedies by being aware of the signs and symptoms when someone is contemplating suicide.”
MHP offers training classes taught by expert mental health care professionals and clinicians. Money raised during the challenge goes to making these trainings available to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. Funds raised during the 2021 challenge helped to provide training to about 630 community members, according to MHP.
This year, funds will also be invested to expand trainings to under-resourced communities and additional events and education.
Briggs and several other individuals involved with MHP came up with the Skyline Traverse Challenge fundraiser “after kicking around a few other crazy ideas” in 2016.
“We wanted something visible and challenging and doable so we came up with the idea of a run,” Briggs explained. “And every year now it seems we hit targets that seemed like they were impossible.”
Although Briggs has not been personally impacted by suicide, the societal pressures on mental health is something he contemplates and why he supports MHP.
“It’s an incredibly important cause and an incredibly effective organization,” said Briggs. “I wish people would support them any way they can.”
To register for the run, bike, or couch challenge, visit runsignup.com/Race/Events/CO/Boulder/MHPChallenge.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or contemplating suicide, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or MHP’s crisis line 844-493-TALK (8255).