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Holidays highlight critical issue of mental health in Colorado mountain towns

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December 19, 2020, 12:12 pm
Two of things keeping us sane these days — skiing … and dogs.

The holidays can be a tough time of the year on the behavioral health front under the best of circumstances. Throw in a global pandemic, economic collapse, and the most divisive election in recent memory, and you have a perfect storm of deteriorating mental health for many folks.

Ski towns in the idyllic mountains of Colorado, where everyone is supposed to be happy and healthy all the time, are not immune.

Take, for example, ski instructors. You’d think they’d be happy just to be plying their trade at all given how many other people in the tourism, recreation and entertainment industries have been shut down by COVID-19.

But this insightful interview by former Vail Trail editor Tara Flanagan with career Vail ski instructor “Laura” in the Ark Valley Voice shows why even those of us in the business of facilitating great memories in the great outdoors aren’t feeling so great these days.

Asked if she’s feeling OK, Laura says, “Not really. I feel fairly depressed right now. It’s hard to explain, but I’m really grieving. I grieve the distance that COVID creates. The changed contact.”

Think about it: That “changed contact” could really apply to any of our professions or pursuits these days, from teachers to students to restaurants workers to restaurant-goers to journalists to the Zoom-confined policymakers those journalists cover.

This time last year, RealVail.com produced a story called “Paradise Paradox” for a series on mental health in the mountains that ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette and was among 10 finalists for a National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Health Care Research and Journalism award. The Los Angeles Times wound up winning.

The Paradise Paradox story really underscored how tough it can be to get help in mountain towns, where there are higher rates of suicide and substance abuse than in the rest of Colorado and the nation.

More recently, RealVail.com helped produce Vail Health Magazine’s mental health issue, including an interview with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health youth engagement coordinator Gerry Lopez, who spoke to the devastating mental health implications for local kids impacted by Trump administration immigration policies such as family separation at the border.

Lopez openly discussed his own suicide ideation when he was at Eagle Valley High School.

Anyone in immediate need of help should call The Hope Center at (970) 306-4673 or call the statewide hotline at (844) 893-8255. Online, go to the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health _ Find A Therapist directory or Olivia’s Fund – a scholarship for those who need therapy but can’t afford it. Also go to SpeakUp ReachOut for more help locally.

Finally, a far more extreme example of what can go so wrong when seemingly everything is so amazing is the sad story of Dean Cummings – a legendary ski film star whom RealVail.com covered and heli-skied with in Alaska. His story underscores how hard it can be to get help in far-flung mountain towns, where there’s so much pressure to perform and be the best in the world.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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