Shred Away Poor Mental Health

At Carving The Future, we are committed to spreading awareness and continuing the “hard” conversations that could save lives. We do this by giving our local youth connection and a sense of community.

Jackson is one of the most incredible locations in the world, however there is a stark dichotomy of extremes. Wyoming’s teen suicide rate is triple the national average. From 2015 to 2019, teen suicide in Wyoming jumped 40% in just three years.

Our founder, Adam Dowell, when he was only 16 had to endure the unimaginable struggle of his older brother Levi’s suicide. And, throughout his life has had many friends in the Jackson area make attempts on their life.

Disconnection- “The state of being isolated or detached.”

In Jackson Wyoming, poor mental health stems from:
  • Physical Needs Not Being Met
  • High Cost of Living
  • Housing Crisis
  • Transient Residents-Lack of Lasting Community
  • Opportunity Gaps
  • Long Winters-Lack of Sunlight- SAD (Seasonal Affects Disorder)
  • High Altitude “Suicide Belt”
  • Exposure to Substance Abuse
  • Addiction- Including Social Media and Technology
  • Cultural Separation

“The U. researchers reviewed several U.S. studies that found suicide rates increased with altitude. One that examined nearly 9,000 suicide deaths in 2006 across 15 states found the suicide rate at high altitudes was three times higher than for those living near sea level. Another study noted a “threshold effect,” where suicide rates increased dramatically between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.”

“Low atmospheric pressure at altitude causes declining blood oxygen levels. This affects the body’s levels of serotonin, the chemical that helps regulate mood, the U. researchers wrote, adding that lower oxygen also impairs energy flows through our brains.” https://www.sltrib.com/news/health/2018/07/01/university-utah-research/

The “high altitude suicide belt”

All of these factors can put our youth at risk.

Trauma, when not understood in a family or community, harms learning, health, adult life and even life expectancy. Growing up in a financially segregated and often culturally segregated town is exceptionally stressful for children. They ultimately have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES):

Children that experience trauma in the household are…

  • 4.5X more likely to suffer from depression
  • 12X more likely to have suicidal ideation
  • 3.5X more likely to get pulmonary or ischemic heart disease
  • 3X more likely to get lung cancer
  • Life expectancy is 20 years less than an individual who has not endured adverse childhood experiences.

Teachers and counselors are still seeing so many kids who are left behind.

In Wyoming, there is a lack of funding for poor mental health prevention and support.

Professionals are burnt out and there’s not enough of them to provide attention to a vast number of youth who do not have the resources they need. 

Mental Health Should Be a Community Response…

Many of these challenging statistics regarding adverse childhood experiences can be “significantly improved if a child has at least one person in their life who believes in them.” (cdc.gov)

…A sense of belonging can be found through connection to members of a community.

Technology Addiction and Social Media

We have gone from the information age into the disinformation age.

Designers, corporations and advertisers are preying on human biology and psychology to make money.

We live in one of the loneliest, depressed and suicidal worlds in history. Children are being affected at an extremely young age and at an increasing rate.

Social media is not trying to protect children. It takes over kids’ sense of self worth and identity during a detrimental time in brain development.

“We have not evolved to be aware of what one thousand people think of us or to seek approval from the masses every five minutes.”

-The Social Dilemma

A child’s sense of reality and personal value is likely to be distorted by a “social culture” that breeds disconnection.

The psychology of persuasion is built into technology. “We have come from a tools-based technological environment to a manipulation and addiction-based technological environment.”

-The Social Dilemma

Historically, those living today feel more loneliness, alienation, polarization, distraction, populism than ever before.

There is a gigantic increase in depression and anxiety for american teenagers. In 2011, 100,000 girls were admitted to a hospital because they cut or harmed themselves. These numbers went way up to 62% for older teen girls and for preteen girls it tripled up to 189%.

Suicide holds the same pattern. In older youth, numbers went up to 70% compared to the first decade of the century. Preteen numbers went up to 151%. This is the first generation to be engaged on social media in middle school.

“Ya know it’s funny, what’s happening to us. Our lives have become digital. Our friends, now virtual. And, anything you could ever wanna know is just a click away. Experiencing the world through second hand information isn’t enough. If we want authenticity we have to initiate it. We will never know our full potential unless we push ourselves to find it. It’s this self-discovery that inevitably takes us to the wildest places on earth.”

-Travis Rice, professional snowboarder

How do we move forward?

Regarding technology addiction and social media, we need to agree on what is ethical and true. One solution is to take individual responsibility for our own social media use and take steps to protect our youth.

There is something we can all do to step away from the virtual world and step back into reality with real connections. Help each other GET UP and GET OUT!

Mental health is a multi faceted realm that involves many aspects. Safety, nutrition, sleep, exercise, self awareness, a sense of belonging and community support.

With community support, children have greater monitoring, better adjustment and a better sense of belonging.

Neighborhood Cohesion is Associated With:

  • Reduced internalization of problems
  • Increased physical activity
  • Better physical health
  • Reduced levels of antisocial behavior
  • Kids are able to form a positive sense of identity
  • Feel empowered
  • Build more self-esteem
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose
  • Construct a positive view of their future

By providing an opportunity for children to practice challenges in a safe environment, they can build better interpersonal and cognitive skills, develop a social network of peers and adults and contribute to something bigger than themselves.

We can start by spreading awareness. Through educating our families, friends and community, we can then address problems pertaining to the lack of physical needs, safety, the effects of living at higher altitudes, Seasonal Affects Disorder, financial stress, substance abuse, opportunity gaps, segregation, ACES-trauma, technological addiction and social media use.

Within our communities, we can look closer at the elements causing disruption and bring together the resources youth need to succeed.

We need to continue talking about it, notice the signs and combat the sources of disconnection for our youth. There is so much hope. This hope resides in connection. AND IT STARTS… WITH YOU.

Carving the Future is a 501(c)3 that exists to “Empower Youth through snowboarding and skateboarding.”

By providing gear, financial scholarships, programs, clinics, competitions, lessons and lift access, our aim is that no child is stuck inside during our long winters. We believe every student should have the opportunity to feel connected to a positive outlet, our mountain culture and our community.

To conclude this post, here is a photographic slideshow that displays Carving the Future’s impact in 2020 and how we are promoting neighborhood cohesion through board sports in Jackson, WY.

Dark Matter Premier & Mental Health in Teton County

Carving The Future & the Pink Garter Theatre hosted the premier of local shred legend Travis Rice’s new film, Dark Matter.

Some dance hungry patrons heard the question, “did you know that Teton County’s suicide rate is double the national average?” as they tried to pass our table on the way to the dance floor. Talia Atkins would follow up by offering a solution to the question, “come help kids get outside this winter! We are Carving the Future, a new snowboarding non-profit here in Jackson,” and win hundreds of hearts. I felt inadequate suggesting $10 donations to help kids snowboard.

Carving the Future (CTF), a nonprofit “Empowering Youth through Snowboarding and Skateboarding regardless of Economic Status,” supports youth seeking to pursue those sports in Jackson with awareness of a complex reality in the town. During their fundraiser at the Pink Garter Theater on February 29, CTF board members sparked conversations about mental illnesses that inflict residents of Teton county and how access to a sport can improve a young person’s life. Their passion for board sports, especially snowboarding, seeks to eliminate barriers so more kids can participate.

Carving the Future’s table at their February 29th fundraiser at the Pink Garter Theater in Jackson (Mariel DeLacy)
Volunteer Anthony Martino educating fundraiser participants about CTF Right (Mariel DeLacy)
JHSC Freeride Team’s booth (Mariel DeLacy)

It was at this event that I became inspired to write about CTF, mental illness, and the unique perspective of the nonprofit based on their board members’ experiences. The following essay pieces together Teton County’s history with mental illness and sheds light on CTF and their great aspirations for the youth in this community. Their courage, joy, and willingness to spark conversations on uncomfortable topics related to suicide and mental illness is why CTF is a vital part of the snowboarding community.

Since starting in the summer of 2018, Carving the Future has donated gear, snow and skateboards to kids and sponsored 10 participants with the Coombs Outdoors snowboarding program. This year they gathered volunteers to teach Arapahoe youth how to ski and snowboard in Jackson with Coombs Outdoors. In addition to mentoring, they sponsored youths’ lift tickets for the Coombs Outdoors program for snowboarding, the JHSC Freeride Program, and even provided scholarships for competitions (1).

At the basis of these events is a leadership grounded in the realities of mental illness that needs outlets like the programs CTF provides. Founder Adam Dowell and Atkins both experienced family members take their lives while growing up here in the county. Before screening Dark Matter, Dowell shared how his brother’s story impacted him growing up and how snowboarding helped prevent him from getting in trouble or increasing his depression after he died. “The sport broadened his vision when his world was shrinking,” quoted Robyn Vincent about Dowell.

This outlet soon became a passion for him, and his love of the sport eventually propelled him to the professional level. Since leaving that world, however, Dowell wanted to give back to kids who lacked entry to the sport, similar to when he was gifted a snowboard as a young kid (2).

Dowell and Atkins’ stories are not unique to this area. A little research into “Teton County” and “suicide” and you’ll find articles like National Geographic’s, “Here’s Why Ski Towns Are Seeing More Suicides,” which cites Teton County as one of several places struggling with this issue.

 Also dire, Wyoming’s suicide rate is the 2nd highest in the U.S. and is nearly double the national average. Teton County’s rate is higher than the state of Wyoming’s according to the 2018 St. John’s Community Health Needs Assessment. Deaths by suicide increased in both Teton County and Wyoming over the past several years for both adults and teens. According to the Casper Star Tribune, teen suicide (ages 15-19) jumped 40% in Wyoming from 2016-2019.

 In Teton county, the number nearly tripled from 2015-2018 for teens, rising from 6.99/100,000 to 23.89/100,000. “Suicidal ideation is complex and not always rooted in mental illness (3),” commented Beverly Shore of Teton County Public Health. She carefully explained that suicide, “is situational and [rooted] in one’s inability to cope and reason. If one is unable to distinguish distress, and eliminate desperation, suicide can seem like the only solution.”

Adam Dowell speaking at CTF fundraiser (Mariel DeLacy)
CTF and Coombs Outdoors partner to teach snowboarding to Arapahoe youth at Snow King Mountain Resort (David Gonzales)

This description opened my window of perception about suicide. Anyone can experience distress or desperation at times, so why do some seek help and others remain quiet? Mental illnesses can be difficult to discuss, which consequently limits individuals’ potential for treatment. People can experience shame for their problems and therefore fear talking about them with family or their community, let alone with a health professional. But it is important to acknowledge that [common mental illnesses like] anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, and suicidal ideation, can all be improved. Shore notes, “they are no different from chronic physical illnesses such as diabetes. If we can encourage people to talk about their mental illness they create a foundation for their wellbeing. In order to talk, though, people have to not feel shame. The more knowledge they gain about the illness makes it less scary and more understandable for them and therefore more manageable.”

The solution appears to lie in communities supporting individuals getting help. Are ski towns somehow less able to provide this level of support for their residents? National Geographic listed the following examples as degrading the quality of life for residents in ski towns; disparity of wealth, isolation from previously deep social ties, the transient nature of ski towns make long-term relationships more challenging, so relationships can be short-term and less fulfilling, to substance use and abuse, and even the effects of altitude on our serotonin and dopamine levels. Deidre Ashley of the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center (JHCCC) commented that many of the stressors that adults experience trickle down to their kids. Any of the above factors can build up and create very real issues for a household. If an individual cannot improve their situation they could begin to feel helpless and search for a way out, which may lead to someone having suicidal ideation and result in them creating a plan. “These folks can be deescalated,” says Beverly Shore, and they can go to the ER or call the National Suicide Prevention Life Line, JHCCC Crisis Line, or Curran Seeley for substance abuse disorder help (4).

“Setting up kids with gear!!! The stoke is Real” Photo from CTF Facebook page

So how does a group of snowboarders like CTF help support local youth who may be exposed to these stressors? Aside from seeking professional help, bonding with teachers and involvement in extracurricular activities greatly improves the lives of young people according to “Predictors of Resilience Among Inner City Youths” (Tiet, Huizinga, & Byrnes, 2010).

This was measured through resiliency, or have good outcomes despite the exposure to risky environments. Their study sought to understand how kids can turn out well adjusted (higher levels of academic achievement, self-esteem, and psycho-social functioning) with fewer anti-social behaviors (lower levels of gang involvement, delinquent behavior, and substance use). Extracurriculars “[provide] opportunities [for youth] to practice social and cognitive skills, to develop a sense of belonging as part of a group, to contribute to one’s community, to develop a social network of peers and adults, and to learn to handle challenges (Eccles et al. 2006).” Those involved in extra-curriculars tended to have better relationships with their teachers as well.

The study continues, “Youths who have strong bonds with parents or teachers may be more likely to talk to them at times of difficulties, and thus, these youths may be more likely to learn coping and interpersonal skills, and internalize values from their parents or teachers. An additional competent and loving adult may prevent youth from engaging in antisocial behaviors, which in turn may lead to engaging in more prosocial behaviors (Tiet et al. (2010).” The research found that stronger bonds with parents or teachers directly impacted a youth’s adjustment and ability to stay out of anti-social behaviors. Young people involved in extra-curricular activities tended to improve their relationships with adults, which elevated their overall adjustment. The earlier a child can access these outlets, the more resilient they become, where resiliency fosters greater resiliency (Tiet et al., 2010).

CTF can provide a community for kids to gain emotional support through mentorship financial support with gear, and a positive outlet through snowboarding. Their involvement in Jackson could promote a type of “neighborhood cohesion” that improves a young person’s self-esteem and positive affect (DiClemente et al., 2004).

Gone Boarding and the Burton Riglet Program partnered with CTF on March 12. Photo from CTF’s Facebook Page

The nonprofit has the potential to impact young lives profoundly by connecting them with any of their board members as they snow or skateboard. Atkins and Mark DeOrsay speak of snowboarding as a conduit for self-awareness and creativity. DeOrsay admires the open-mindedness he gains, “[it’s] a sport that is not bound by game rules and encourages creativity and looking at the space around [you] with a different eye.” This translates well with Atkins’ belief in connecting to nature and conservation. Snowboarding “[is] the gateway into personal growth and connection to our natural world that I feel everyone should have access to. The more time people spend in nature the more they can understand the importance of conservation, protecting what we have and spreading awareness of climate change.”

Spend any time with Atkins, read her bio, and feel connected, recharged, and inspired. She could relate to many people, young or not. Dave Peters believes this connection to nature can improve extreme conditions in someone’s life. By “being outside and exercising, this type of activity can …give [people] a better sense of well being and help combat depression, anxiety, stress and PTSD.” Kids could also meet Jackson legends like Marc Loebe or Lynn Linker, both of whom have a long history in the county.

Loebe owned Boardroom for 15 years in Jackson and loves the sport to this day. His is a message of individual empowerment, “I have as much fun now as I did when I first [started] riding, so to me the future of snowboarding is what you make it.” Linker promotes the sport from her life-long history with snow and the Village, all of which would inspire a young ripper. From growing up at the Village, to participating in famous clinics, to competing in college and making some extra money with the sport, “ I had no idea I would love [snowboarding] so much,” comments Linker. Ex-professional snowboarder and founder of CTF, Dowell, also joins this crew.

Waxing boards with Franco Snowboards
More gear handouts *photos from CTF Facebook

CTF is aware of the huge impact snowboarding can have on an individual’s life. Youth spending time outdoors with mentors who care about their well-being can prevent boredom or feelings of isolation.

The nonprofit is aware of mental illness in the county and wants to give kids an outlet in the outdoors before a young person feels the need to take drastic measures to permanently affect their life. In doing so, they give youth access to the absolute variety, beauty, and potential that Jackson Hole offers. They also promote youth playing and being kids, the simplest way of maximizing childhood. Their community support even reaches to the professional circuit, by bringing the film Dark Matter to their event on Saturday. The film is professional snowboarder Travis Rice’s most recent project and it was the first public screening, free of charge, in support of the non-profit’s goals. If kids do get involved with CTF, they get to see where passion for a sport can take people like Rice and Elias Eldhardt from Dark Matter.

Travis Rice did grow up in Jackson, afterall.

The multi-piece event partnered Atkins and Dowell with local Snowboarding affiliates JH Snowboarder magazine, JHSC Freeride Team, and Elevated Snowboards who showcased their work alongside a silent auction. Dark Matter screened around 8:00. Something Else DJs, spearheaded by DJs Hunter S, OhNassi, and DJ Crayon put on a dance party with guest DJs Brass Tax (Milk & Honey), Easy, Aeege, Eco, and Rimas from 9:30pm – 2:00am upstairs.

CTF founding member Mark DeOrsay rips a pow turn

As many snowboarders wondered how Rice and Eldhardt could possibly ride the spines of mountain faces consistently and gracefully, guests were invited to await the DJ set, which stayed until close that night. Appropriate to acknowledge, is that adult drinking impacts our youth culture here in Jackson, especially when it encourages us to socialize and even raise money in support of good causes. CTF wants to support youth having different outlets, so the 47% of 12th graders who admitted to drinking alcohol in the past 30 days in a survey conducted by the county in 2015 will have other decisions to make.

The nonprofit is dedicated to creating a culture in Jackson around snow and skateboarding in a way that may be absent today amidst the increased cost of living in the area. They had community support that night with all ages showing up to dance after the film.

CTF’s team educated as many people as possible Saturday night about mental health and suicide that is overlooked if you assume the beauty of Jackson’s surroundings is as accessible to its residents as it is to tourists. They inspired a lot of appreciation for our mountains that night. Participants contributed to a meaningful cause. This made the evening of “red-carpet” photos, silly dance moves, and a winter of skiing and riding all the more worthwhile.

The nonprofit accepts donations outside of fundraisers like the one at the Garter Saturday night. If you’d like to donate to CTF, email info@carvingthefuture.com, visit their donate page for more information. You can also apply for a scholarship on their website here.

Footnotes:(1)  Visit CTF’s event page for more information on upcoming snowboarding events happening around the area or for a list of their own (they want to host four, two of which are on-snow) and information on how to get involved.(2) Read more about his story on the CTF website or in issue 14 of JH Snowboarder Magazine’s article.(3) Mental illness Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. American Psychiatric Association : https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness(4) JH Community Counseling Center 24 hour Crisis Line (307) 733-2046 or Dial 911 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

National Go Skate Day 2019

After months and months of working with a lawyer, getting our board together, and planning some awesome events, we finally got our 501(c)(3) status in February 2019. 

If you’ve ever tried, or had a friend that’s tried to start a nonprofit, the IRS makes it super fun to jump through all their loopholes! But, a worthy mission is always worth the challenge.

As sort of a Celebration, we had planned to host our first on-snow event in Spring of 2019, but unfortunately couldn’t get the resorts to work with us in time to make it happen.

Therefore, National Go Skateboarding Day was our first official event as a newly formed official non profit, and honestly we wouldn’t have it any other way! It turned out amazing!

Snow In June

In true Jackson Hole style, on June 21st, when most of the country is cranking the Air Conditioning and sun tanning, we got snow! 

Yep, Go Skate Day 2019 got snowed on. It was hilarious in the most ironic way. And, like any smart Jackson-hole-ians we planned ahead and brought a whole bunch of tarps.

Luckily it only snowed briefly and the park dried off super quick once it stopped. Plus it was a perfect opportunity for the younger kids to paint their own trucker hats! Thank you to Mariah for donating your time and the hats to the kids! They loved it!

A Perfect Event

Minus the snow, it truly was a perfect event. We had some awesome kids show up early for our “learn to skate” time. We provided skateboards and pads to those who didn’t have any. 

Huge shoutout to Cody Hansen who gave us a big duffle bag of pads and skateboards. Support like his is what community is all about.