Breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health in snowboarding.
In 2018 I decided to take a step back from my career as a big mountain snowboarder to pursue a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Northwestern University. This program was grueling and demanded most of my time, leaving little space for snowboarding, friends, or really anything else. Then COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, and we all know what happened next: a global pandemic, decreased social interaction, an economic crisis, a politically polarized election, and a racial justice awakening. These events left me with chronic uncertainty, anxiety, and depression–all within the same year.
Geesh. Good time to become a counselor, huh? But then something happened. As mental health became more and more of a buzzword during this tremendously difficult time, I began to hear it echoed throughout all aspects of my life, including in my snowboarding community. The stigma around mental health began to decrease, and the doors opened for us to explore how this integral part of our well-being is impacted or expressed throughout all aspects of our lives.
When I was approached to work on this article, my first thought was: Umm, I have to write about my own mental health…in a snowboarding magazine? I took a beat and my next thought was: There it goes, there’s the stigma, the shame, the embarrassment talking. That’s the point of this article. That’s the reaction many of us have when asked to go to a vulnerable place within ourselves.
Expressing that personal vulnerability in a public way isn’t easy, even for a mental health counselor! I’m sweating as I sit here writing this, wondering: How will this be perceived, how will the snowboard community react, will this help anyone? However, as I learned throughout my education, being advocates for mental health is how we decrease the stigma and normalize the part of being a human that hurts. Most of us have lived through some sort of trauma. Life in Jackson Hole is dangerous; the mountains can break us and kill the people we love. Tragedies can result in a question lingering in the back of our minds: Am I okay?
“Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
It is okay to not be okay. This is a normal part of being alive, of being a human. We have complex feelings, thoughts, and emotions that become negatively impacted when we go through hard stuff. It’s also okay to reach out for help and that doesn’t need to mean therapy. Call a trusted friend or family member and tell them what’s going on. There are numerous ways we can show up for ourselves too: take a walk, take a breath, make some art, go snowboarding, breathe, go for a hike, stretch, breathe, space out on your favorite TV show, light a candle, do some yoga, cook something, breathe… you get the point. When all those things that you enjoy doing still aren’t helping, that’s when I recommend reaching out to a professional for help
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Reaching out takes courage and I applaud everyone who does it. If you have been thinking about it, here are some resources to use as a starting point. These organizations and services exist to help you and your loved ones along this bizarre, exhilarating, often depressing, and sometimes joyful experience we call life. If cost is a preventative factor, most of these organizations offer a sliding fee scale based on your ability to pay. Some offer a number of free sessions or a trial period. So please reach out and see what you learn. As always, shred on friends.
Halina Boyd is a retired pro snowboarder, turned grad school graduate! @halinalaboyd
Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center
640 E Broadway Ave, Jackson, WY 83001 jhccc.org