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The crisis that is mental illness and addiction will be the frank topic of a Feb. 25 special film screening, featuring Andy Irons, the three-time world champion surfer who won every major surfing competition in the world before dying from an overdose of mixed drugs when he was only 32. The free Chaffee County community event featuring the film Andy Irons: Kissed by God, is scheduled for 5 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Buena Vista Community Center. The event will begin with a free pizza dinner, the screening the film, include a discussion led by local mental health and addiction experts.

“The Andy Irons story is a cautionary, though common tale,” said Regional Health Connector for Chaffee County Public Health Mike Orrill, who has organized the free event. “A man deeply loved by his many friends, respected as one of the best surfers ever, married and with his first child soon to be born, but battling an addiction and a treatable mental illness. Yet because of the stigma attached to it, he self-medicates with drugs and alcohol so common in the world of extreme sports.”

What the world and even his closest friends didn’t know, is that Irons struggled with bipolar disorder for most of his life and had never sought treatment. As the best surfer in the sport, having even bested his main rival Kelly Slater, Irons was too embarrassed to get the help he needed.

Following the screening, a panel of local addiction and mental health experts will discuss local efforts to raise awareness of places to seek help and discuss the dynamics of despair and hope. The panel includes; Jennifer Wood of the Chaffee County Boys and Girls Clubs, Mandy Kaisner of Solvista Health, Chaffee County Communities That Care Coordinator Liz Seilatyki, and Jessica Eaddy of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

The documentary film was made by Steve and Todd Jones of Teton Gravity Research; an action sports media company that is best known for its extreme sports films. Those who have watched the film say it offers “awesome” surfing footage.

Orrill explained that the reason that Irons’ family wanted this film to be made was to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and addiction.”So that people will not be embarrassed to seek the help they need. Aside from the great surfing footage, this film has something for everyone who has struggled with mental illness or addiction, or who knows someone who has.”