WASHINGTON (Circa) — In April of 2017, firefighter Alex Hall got an unexpected call from his friend and fellow ultrarunner, Thaddeus Meyer.
Meyer was calling to tell Hall some heartbreaking news: His 72-year-old mother had committed suicide.
“What does a brother do at that point but say, I’m here for you. Let me know what you want from me,'” Hall said.
After the death of Meyer’s mother, he and Hall began brainstorming ways to bring attention to the stigma surrounding suicide in the U.S.
“It was that event that motivated us to start really planning and thinking about ways to raise awareness of what she was suffering from, and raise awareness for mental health, suicide prevention and PTSD,” Meyer said.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) notes that there is an average of 123 suicides per day.
Both men are ultra runners and completed a 343-mile run about 2 and a half years ago to raise money for the I Will Foundation, a non-profit established to help people overcome challenges “caused by life-altering illness or traumatic injury.”
So they decided to up the ante, setting a goal to run 1,000 miles to raise $20,000 for AFSP.
“We call it the SOS 1,000-Mile Run for Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention,” Hall explained. “It works out to be about 40 miles a day for 25 days.”
Hall and Meyer will be starting their run on May 26 in Tobermory, Ontario and finishing on June 19 in Albany, New York.
Meyer said the message they hope to convey through this run is that it’s okay to not be okay.
“It’s okay to talk about mental illness,” he said. “It’s okay to discuss suicidal thoughts. We need to be open and honest with each other.”
Hall, who is a firefighter in Henrico County, Virginia, said he hopes the run opens up a conversation among his fellow first responders who see trauma every single day.
We understand that running alone isn’t going to prevent suicide,” he said. “So we hope this starts those conversations because we know that that will prevent suicide.”
Both Hall and Meyer said they have been trying to be open and honest about their own mental health struggles in order to encourage others to do the same.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has resources that can help.