Teen snowboarder helps spread mental health awareness, strives to break stigma
Former Frisco resident Pippa Scott may spend the vast majority of her time trying to put together a strong competition run, but her mind is also occupied with trying to break the stigma surrounding mental health in the snowsports community and beyond.
Scott, 16, is a slopestyle and halfpipe snowboard athlete who competed throughout the 2022-23 winter season and on the U.S. Revolution Tour. Despite still being considered a young rider, Scott is no stranger to snowboarding competitions. Making one of her earliest appearances in 2013 at the Billabong Flaunt It slopestyle and rail jam competition, Scott has been present at major snowboarding competitions for the better part of 10 years.
In that timeframe, Scott has seen two sides of the sport she dearly loves. On one hand, Scott has seen herself and close friends finish on podiums, stomp runs and make breakthroughs in the sport, but she has also experienced heartache over several suicides within her snowboarding circle.
“I had my own friends who struggled, and I personally also struggle with mental health,” Scott said. “With the snowboard community, I had never had a chance where someone had an open conversation with me about mental health. It never seemed like something that was appropriate to talk about or something that was normal.”
Scott said the same is true for mountain communities in general. The community may feel tight-knit and small, but mental health is often not considered when other aspects of an individual’s well-being are.
“I remember just being part of a mountain town and a community that is so small that it sometimes seemed like mental health was overlooked because no one was talking about it,” Scott said.
With many Olympic athletes like Mikaela Shiffrin, Shaun White, Simone Biles and Michael Phelps speaking out and bringing awareness to their own mental health, Scott strived to provide a support system for those competing at her age and skill level.
With the help of Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, Scott began Ride for Mental Health in order to address the stigma around mental health and the rate of suicides in America’s young adults.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 10- to 14-year-olds and is the third-leading cause of death amongst 15- to 24-year-olds. Additionally, a different CDC report showed that 57% of high school girls and 70% of LBGTQ+ students felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021.
Ride for Mental Health hopes to break the current trend of teen suicides in the snowsports community and beyond. At the center of Scott’s mission is making sure young snowsports athletes have a comfortable place to talk about their own mental health. She often stresses that one’s mental health is just as important as an athlete’s physical health or stomping a run.
“I also strive to go to the Olympics just like a lot of my peers, and I feel like since I was little that the huge message I was given was that you had to be strong and tough to be a professional athlete,” Scott said. “Now I realize that is a minor part of it, and it is more about talking about how you are feeling and not bottling up your emotions.”
In the one month Ride for Mental Health has officially been established, Scott has already seen a shift within her snowboarding community.
Scott says before she started to pay attention to mental health, athletes would often be paralyzed when a run or competition did not go the way they planned. Now Scott feels like athletes are more comfortable to talk about their emotions and push past one bad run or competition.
“Especially with my peers, I have noticed that when we talk about tricks that are going wrong and why they feel a certain way, then they get on the hill and the run that they take is better than the last because they have already talked and had the conversation,” Scott said. “They are no longer bottling up those emotions.”
Scott is ultimately helping to break down the stigma and barriers around the often taboo subject.
“By opening up this conversation (Pippa) is breaking down barriers of stigma and shame and that is okay to talk about it,” said Susan Tellone, The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide clinical director. “Another message that she is sending out is that it is brave to talk about your mental health. It is actually courageous. As courageous as extreme sports kids are, this is even more courageous than some of the things they have done on the slopes.”
Scott and Tellone were both present at the United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association nationals at Copper Mountain Resort for snowboard week last week. The duo spoke at forums for athletes, coaches and the USASA about teen suicide prevention, as well as provided stuffed heart pillows for every athlete’s swag bag at the event.
“We never do any presentation without telling people what to look for, the warning signs and what to do if they are worried about someone,” Tellone said. “We probably had a 45-minute conversation about it, and it seemed like it really resonated with them. They were grateful.”
Ultimately, Scott and Tellone are hoping to continue to break the stigma around mental health and make individuals more comfortable about talking about their mental health through Ride for Mental Health.
“We want people to know to get help early on and to not wait,” Tellone said. “Do not wait until you are feeling awful and are in crisis. Be able to acknowledge when they might be having a bad day and to be able to talk about it. We are in a crisis right now in our country, and a lot of that is because people are waiting too long to get help.”
To give to the cause of Ride for Mental Health, visit GoFundMe.com.
It takes courage and bravery to speak up about mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, do not wait to reach out.
Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger. Text or call 988 for a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline or call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.