The Paradise Paradox, executive produced by Olympic ski racing legend and Montana resident Bode Miller and Emmy Award-winning impact sports filmmaker Brett Rapkin, explores the shocking mental health crisis that is impacting Rocky Mountain ski towns and the innovative solutions happening there. Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico consistently rank in the top states for the highest suicide rates, giving this Rocky Mountain region the eerie descriptor of “the suicide belt,” according to National Geographic.
The documentary features specific families and individuals in order to humanize mental health challenges–such as how to live with major depression, suicidal ideation or how to help someone who is in a mental health crisis–that can sometimes feel abstract.
One storyline is that of Olivia, a young girl in Eagle Valley, Colorado who was adventurous and passionate about the outdoors. She enjoyed sports and loved animals, especially the family dog. Her mother began noticing changes in Olivia’s personality after her daughter entered 6th grade, where she experienced severe bullying including notes to kill herself. The family did everything they could to obtain behavioral health care and treatment but were met with obstacles, revealing the numerous gaps in the local behavioral health system. Because of a lack of providers, it took six weeks to get Olivia in to see a counselor. Furthermore, the visits were not covered by health insurance and the family did not qualify for financial assistance, making the out-of-pocket $270/hour impossible to sustain.
Olivia’s pain was too great. She took her life in February 2018, just a few days after her 13th birthday. Fortunately, Olivia’s community decided her death would not be in vain. Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, an outreach wing of Vail Health, partnered with Vail Health Foundation to launch Olivia’s Fund, a financial assistance program for residents in need of local behavioral health resources.
While the film discusses the reasons behind the current crisis, such as substance abuse, rural location, isolation, lack of access to resources, and stigma, the focus is on the creative and scalable solutions local organizations are creating in response. The impact campaign based on people seeing the film and wanting to be part of the solution will be scaled to increase positive mental health outcomes and replicated widely.
There is a growing crisis in our ski towns that needs our immediate attention.Bode Miller, US Olympic Gold Medalist Skier and Executive Producer