A hike through Mt. Washington’s Emerald View Park next month aims to shed light on the resources available to those suffering from depression or mental illness.
It’s part of the WALKATOP charity hiking event on Sept. 11. Coordinators plan to raise funds for mental health programming and staffing at UPMC, as well as offer support, information and referrals to anyone seeking help.
“Our goal was to make a difference in this terrible situation,” said Betty Kripp, who lost a nephew to suicide in 2004 and coordinates the event with her siblings. “When we experienced the impact of a family member dying in this way it was overwhelming to all of us.”
This is the second year the Thomas Brown Alton Foundation, named for Kripp’s nephew, has hosted WALKATOP, which takes place during National Suicide Prevention month. Participants choose one of the treks on Mt. Washington’s hillside, which ranges from 2.6 to 14 miles long.
“You can hear the din of the city… and then there it is a surprising view of the West End Bridge or Downtown,” said Thomas H. Brown, Kripp’s brother and fellow coordinator of the event. “It’s not the view you’ll get from Grandview Avenue at the overlook where everyone will snap a picture.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In order to combat that number, proceeds from WALKATOP will be given to the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) program at UPMC Mercy.
Patty Neumeyer, director of clinical and support services at UPMC Mercy’s Department of Psychiatry, said that more than 66 different types of professionals have been able to receive ASIST training with the support of the foundation. She said the prevention model is paramount when detecting the signs of mental illness and preventing suicide.
“If they have the option to see there are resources and services it really does instill a sense of hope,” she said.
Because Thomas Brown Alton enjoyed art, the proceeds from WALKATOP will also go to the foundation’s effort to supply art and cooking therapy classes for patients with mental illness at Mercy.
The family behind the Thomas Brown Alton Foundation has lived in Mt. Washington for generations. For Kripp, the trails are a source of empathy.
“When I have hiked, I think about the challenges and the ups and downs and overcoming obstacles that people who are in the situation where they are considering suicide have to deal with continually,” she said.
Hikers may pre-register and find information at walkatop.com.