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New film explores relationship between mountain towns and high rates of suicide

Posted at 6:57 AM, Oct 17, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A new documentary highlights the paradox of the laid-back lifestyle of iconic mountain towns and the high rates of suicide in often-secluded areas.

“The Paradise Paradox,” which was executive produced by Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, explores why this trend exists and what can be done about it.

"If you look at the ten states that have the highest suicide rates, often seven or eight of them will be specifically in the Rockies," explained Brett Rapkin, Executive Producer and Co-Director of the film. "So the Rockies, some people have even started to call it the suicide belt."

This harsh reality might be surprising for some who see picturesque views, adventurous activities and overall natural splendor of mountain towns.

"There's a list of things from substance abuse to isolation to a lack of providers," Rapkin said. "So when you have a combination of these things, you also have a lot of access to firearms, a lot of isolation, loneliness, you've got your financial disparity."

Ski patrol duties also take a heavy toll on the men and women who work in the industry.

"They're first responders and they show up on the scene and find some pretty gnarly things sometimes," Rapkin said. "They need to have the resources in place to process that trauma and the answer can't be just going to the bar and having a few beers."

Rapkin thinks the real solution to the broader mental health issues in small mountain towns is greater community organization. A lot of the solutions, he admits, come down to funding.

The movie highlights Eagle Mountain, Colorado, where leaders tapped into the marijuana tax. They have clinicians in each of the 17 public schools there and a clinician who shows up with police to every traumatic incident in an effort to try and normalize getting mental help.

"First and foremost, I hope this movie will help continue to break down the walls of stigma," Rapkin reflected.

The Paradise Paradox screening tour continues over the next several months through the winter. Click here to learn more about a screening near you.