Guest editorial: Vail Resorts CEO says addressing mental health is critical in mountain communities
Vail Resorts CEO
Mountain living can be spectacular — both the beauty of being surrounded by the great outdoors and the camaraderie of a tight-knit community. But the same characteristics that make it unique have also created barriers to addressing a critical issue facing mountain and remote communities around the world: mental health.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness — one in five adults will experience mental illness in a given year — the majority of those affected do not receive the services they need. In mountain communities, the issue is intensified. Suicide rates are higher than average, emergency room visits for anxiety and depression are up by triple digits, and we continue to see a rise in substance abuse. Why? Unfortunately, there is a devastating shortage of mental health care service providers in smaller and more remote communities. And, even when services are available, those affected are less likely to seek help because of the social stigma already associated with treatment, which is often exacerbated in more intimate communities.
The good news is there is brave and inspiring work being done to address the issue in our mountain communities — from the Hope Center’s crisis response work in Eagle County, Colorado, to Building Hope’s stigma reduction marketing campaign and provider network in Summit County, Colorado, to Park City’s collaborative efforts through the Mental Wellness Alliance, to Whistler Community Social Service’s outreach programs, to Truckee’s high school wellness program — just to name a few. At Vail Resorts, we have also made our Epic Wellness program — which provides free, confidential counseling and other mental health care services — available to all of our employees.
Last fall, my wife, Elana, and I launched the Katz Amsterdam Foundation with a clear mission: to be a catalyst for eliminating the stigma of mental illness, increasing access to behavioral and mental health care, and improving the quality of care for all in the communities in which Vail Resorts operates.
Since then, the Foundation has been able to meet with dozens of nonprofits and organizations committed to creating truly healthy communities. As we listened to their concerns, perspectives and ideas, we have been inspired by their passion for making a difference. Our goal now is to help amplify the work they are doing by connecting them to critical resources — and to each other.
Our communities can be far more powerful if we work collectively. Our Foundation is seeking to help make those connections: Connection between communities to share experiences, learnings and programs; connection to knowledge, research and innovation happening across the world; and connection with financial resources — both through grants from the Katz Amsterdam Charitable Trust and by helping to attract others to give as well.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In the spirit of connections, we’re hosting the first Katz Amsterdam Foundation Convening, where 60 nonprofit, local government and health care leaders from 10 mountain communities are coming together May 29-31 in Boulder, Colorado, to establish a foundation for shared learning.
While we’re incredibly excited by what this group of passionate and experienced minds will discover, we encourage everyone to get involved by taking even one small action: Ask someone how they are. Share a challenge that you have had. Show others it is okay to ask for help. By connecting, we can help break the stigma and create stronger, more resilient and more connected communities.
We’re all in this together.
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