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About Utah: Utahn finds hiking is way out of depression's fog

MOUNT OLYMPUS COVE — Give Owen Ashton a couple of hours and his own free will and choice, and he will head straight for the hills. Every time. There's nowhere he would rather be, no place he feels more at peace, no better therapy, than just kicking around in the mountains.

To anyone who knows him, then, it comes as no surprise that it was a hike in the mountains that gave him the inspiration to write the book he's just published, "Rising Above Fog."

On a dreary winter day five years ago, Owen parked his car at the Mount Olympus trailhead on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley and headed up. When he got to the top, he turned around to take in the view — and the valley wasn't there.

He describes what he saw as "a bowl of thick suds."

Otherwise known around here as a (fill in this blank with your own adjectives) temperature inversion.

Owen sat there transfixed. He was in blue skies, sunshine and the clearest, cleanest air you could imagine, and at his feet was this thick, ugly, polluted gunk.

In that setting he had an epiphany. Hours earlier, he'd been in that gunk. When he was immersed in it, he was not aware just how thick and unhealthy it was. Only after he rose above the fog could he better see it for what it was.

He saw that as a metaphor for his own life. For years, ever since he was a teenager, he'd struggled with mental depression. He went through all the predictable stages. The not knowing what it was stage. The suck it up and shake it off stage. The psychotherapy treatment stage. And finally the antidepressant medication stage.

It had taken him the better part of 40 years to rise above the fog of depression enough to be able to look at what he'd waded through for the gunk it really was.

If he could have shouted anything to the world from the mountaintop that day, he'd have shouted out that mental illness is real, and that through the proper mix of acceptance, understanding and therapy, it can be contained.

Realizing he couldn't reach anyone that way he decided on Plan B: write a book.

In "Rising Above Fog," (available at, Owen tells his personal story of rising above mental illness. He wrote the book in the hope that it will help others in their search for answers and treatment.

On a recent morning , Owen, 59, talked about his new book and his work as an advocate for mental health treatment on a hike up his favorite canyon on Earth: Neffs Canyon.

Owen grew up just below Neffs Canyon, which is located above Olympus Cove just south of Millcreeck Canyon and at the base of Mount Olympus, and even though he now lives several miles away, he still visits regularly.

"If I haven't been here in a month I start going through withdrawal," he says.

The tranquility of the canyon provides a stark contrast to the statistics Owen, a former CPA, rattles off as he climbs.

Twenty percent of Americans experience mental illness in any given year … 60 percent of that 20 percent do not seek treatment … 25 percent of Americans have a family member with mental illness … 17 million Americans — about 1 in every 20 — experience depression in any given year … there are 30 million suicides every year in the United States; 1 million in the world.

The point, says Ashton as we reach a vista below Mount Olympus, is that a lot of people are in a fog and they need to realize there is a way out.

Take it from him, the view is terrific once you get there.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: