GREAT FALLS – About a year ago, Texas natives Tom and Ellen Harris along with friends Isaac and Libby Manning decided to do something extreme to bring more awareness to mental health issues.
The couples chose to bike the Lewis and Clark trail backward and so began the Light the Trail Ride. in Fort Clatsop, Oregon on September 3.
The couples started in Fort Clatsop, Ore. on Sept. 3.
“What we are trying to do is eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness and depression,” Tom Harris said. According to Tom, 45,000 people a year die from suicide.
“One out of three people in this country suffer some form of depression,” he said. “It needs to be considered more of a disease than it is today.”
Harris said that three years after Meriwether Lewis traveled the northwest territories, he took his own life.
“It is somewhat symbolic that we do this and have that backstory with us,” Harris said.
Each leg of the ride is dedicated to a person who committed suicide although, for the Harris’, the expedition holds personal meaning. On March 27, 2012, they lost their oldest daughter to suicide.
“After getting over the tragedy and the shock, we decided that it was important to try to do something to help others that were also struggling,” Harris said.
In 2014, the couple started the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation. They hope to educate communities about mental health through their journey.
The Foundation raises money for depression research and also hosts suicide prevention programs in a school in Fort Worth, Texas.
Harris said they hope to bring awareness to veteran suicides by partnering with an organization called 22 Kill, which helps struggling soldiers and their families.
“Our soldiers that are coming back from war are facing a slew of challenges. Some of them come back healthy but a lot of them do not,” Harris said. “Those that do not come back healthy, whether it be physical or mental, those are the guys and ladies we need to reach out to.”
The group will end their 3,700 mile trip in Washington D.C. on Veteran’s Day in memory of all veterans who have died by suicide.
“Mental illness comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We need to recognize it. We need to help those who are struggling with it. We need to find more resources for depression research,” Harris said.