Opinion: Bode Miller film, The Paradise Paradox, highlights mental health struggles in ski towns

In this Dec. 2, 2015, file photo, Bode Miller navigates the course as a forerunner prior to a training run for competitors in the Men's World Cup downhill skiing event in Beaver Creek, Colo.

In this Dec. 2, 2015, file photo, Bode Miller navigates the course as a forerunner prior to a training run for competitors in the Men's World Cup downhill skiing event in Beaver Creek, Colo. Nathan Bilow/ AP


Published: 05-13-2024 5:03 PM

Jim Doremus is chair of the board at Riverbend Community Mental Health. He lives in Henniker.

Mental health is a serious concern in every corner of the Granite State, but a relatively hidden problem is the high incidence of depression, anxiety and suicide in resort areas and ski towns.

We need to applaud Bode Miller, the World Cup and Olympic gold medal-winning skier who grew up in Franconia, for helping produce a documentary highlighting this issue: “The Paradise Paradox.” The film, which has its New Hampshire premiere on May 14 at Red River Theatres in Concord, profiles Western ski towns, but there are many parallels to the same problems in ski towns in the Northeast and right here in New Hampshire.

It is refreshing that Bode Miller, with his celebrity status and influence, would now be amplifying the pervasive issue of mental health. In 2020, he appeared with other athletes in HBO’s “The Weight of Gold,” a documentary about the mental health challenges that Olympic athletes face.

Bode said in an interview at the time of that film’s release, “Everything is focused on the physical side and it leaves them feeling very exposed on the emotional and mental state.” The production team behind “The Weight of Gold” brought forward that conversation by teaming with Bode to produce “The Paradise Paradox.”

While “The Weight of Gold” focused on the stress that elite athletes experience, this new film casts a wider net and addresses a broader demographic: regular working people in traditionally wealthy ski towns. The wealth gap in resort towns is striking, as highlighted in the film and as we see here in the North Country of New Hampshire, and there is no doubt that this class disparity contributes to mental illness and substance use disorders.

The affluent continue to move here to live or buy second homes, drawn to New Hampshire’s beautiful scenery, unspoiled wilderness areas, winter sports and recreation. This movement became even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people fled more populated areas and moved north, either temporarily or permanently.

With our tourism-dependent economy, the state welcomes visitors and new residents, but there are many people living and working in these resort towns who suffer from stress, economic struggles and isolation. The adrenaline-fueled culture of winter sports also connects to substance abuse. These are all contributors to the need for more mental health services that are already scarce in rural areas.

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In Colorado, where “The Paradise Paradox” was first screened last year and continues to be shown, the huge increase in suicides in ski towns over the last decade was raised at a public forum where the film was discussed; Miller cited the need for more suicide prevention efforts. A downhill skiing culture fueled by living on the edge and partying are other factors cited as contributors to the epidemic of mental health problems in resort areas and ski towns.

Riverbend Community Mental Health Center, which is sponsoring the premiere New Hampshire screening of “The Paradise Paradox,” has an all-star line-up of experts for a panel discussion following the film’s showing, including the CEO of Northern Human Services, which provides mental health care in Conway and other ski areas; a clinical leader from Riverbend; ski patrol members from two different New Hampshire ski resorts; and professional skier Caite Zeliff, who grew up in New Hampshire and now lives in Alaska.

We hope that the showing of “The Paradise Paradox” will bring attention to this lesser-known but critical problem, and prompt further action on how we can increase access to mental health care in these so-called “paradise” places.