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New Film Promotes Mental Health Awareness in the Ski Community

‘The Mountain in My Mind,’ a new film made by John Padilla in memory of his late brother, premieres this month.

Jack Padilla was 15 and a freshman at Denver’s Cherry Creek High School when online bullying and a struggle with mental health led him to take his own life. Jack died on February 14, 2019. Since that date, his family has made suicide prevention and mental health awareness their sole mission.

“This happened and our lives changed. My life is broken into two parts now: before Jack died and after Jack died,” says Jack’s older brother, John Padilla.

After his death, John got Jack’s friends together and asked them to write down what they thought could have saved Jack’s life. “I didn’t want Jack to be remembered as the kid who died in high school,” John says. “I wanted his peers to remember him for something he’d be proud of.” Collectively, they came up with a list of 11 items.

The list included everything from forming a nonprofit organization in Jack’s name, helping pass anti-bullying legislation, creating a scholarship for youngsters who want to become mental health counselors, and staging a walkout to change school policies on bullying. They did it all. The last item on the list: make a film.

“Jack was passionate about snowboarding. It was his happy place. The mountains and the ski hill were his escape. Those were where our favorite memories were,” John says. “He always said, ‘I wish I could see you in a ski movie.’ So, that’s what we’re doing.”

An hour-long documentary ski film, “The Mountain in My Mind,” which is supported by Flylow, premieres this month. The movie, which was produced by John and edited by Allen Jimenez, is debuting in Bozeman, Montana, on October 14 and making its way to tour stops in Denver, Breckenridge, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Boulder, Reno, Bend, Seattle, and elsewhere. All of the proceeds from the film tour will go toward suicide prevention. The film will be released in full online on November 28 on YouTube.

To make the film, John bought a new camera and traveled 36,000 miles last winter, filming in locations across Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and British Columbia. The film documents eight athletes from diverse backgrounds who are all coping with something challenging, whether it’s suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, domestic abuse, or sexual assault.

“Each segment also includes hopeful messages: What do they wish they would have known that could have made things easier for them?” John says. “The goal of this film is to get the conversation started about mental health, so we can make it OK to ask people how they’re really doing. The thing I wish I had done is ask Jack, ‘Have you ever had feelings of suicide?’ Those words could have saved his life.”

There’s plenty of good ski action to watch too, including segments shot in the park, on the streets, in powder, in the backcountry. There’s ski mountaineering and resort skiing. “The point was to make sure that everyone who watches this film will identify with at least one of the characters,” John says. “There might be some tears in the middle, but I promise you’ll walk away feeling hopeful. The skiing is incredible and there are some laughs in the middle.”

Besides the film, John and the Padilla family and their friends have checked off nearly everything on that initial list. They formed an organization called Jack Strong17 (17 was Jack’s lacrosse number, and 17 of his friends helped form the group). Colorado Governor Jared Polis named February 15 Jack Padilla Day. Jack and Cait’s Law, an anti-bullying bill of rights that addresses how schools handle bullying, has passed in Colorado. They raised over $46,000 in a GoFundMe campaign for suicide prevention efforts.

Jack, who was half Latino and one of few minorities in his school, was a top-tier lacrosse player and loved snowboarding and being in the mountains. He had been diagnosed with depression and was on medication. After his death, his parents were able to access messages on his phone that showed he was being severely bullied and taunted, including some messages that directly encouraged him to kill himself.

Across the country, suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. The Rocky Mountains are known as the suicide belt, since states like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho often rank amongst the top states in the country for high suicide rates.

The goal of the film—and everything else they’ve done—is to make mental health less of a taboo, to make it OK to get help or to say you’re not doing OK. “Even if you haven’t lost someone, even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental illness, you can still benefit from seeing a therapist,” John says. “It’s that person you can call. It’s personal independent growth. There are plenty of programs around the country where you can get affordable mental health care.”

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.


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