As Pride month kicks off, June is also the month for mental health awareness in men. Statistically, men die from suicide three times more than women, and within the last year the Center for Suicide Prevention(CSP) has been trying to push authentic conversation around this topic. CSP's Buddy Up campaign was created by men, for men. The goal of Buddy Up is to promote conversation around men’s mental health, and make it more socially acceptable for men to reach out. “Growing up, we were told to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair.’ We’re in an environment that makes men reluctant to reach out when they need to,” said Akash Asif, the external relations director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention. CSP is hoping to change this by promoting a “help-offering behaviour” — which encourages people to reach out to friends who are struggling. “Every one in 20 people have suicidal thoughts. Everyone has their own stories and lives. We’re trying to show anyone can have these thoughts. From a construction worker to a successful business man, old or young,” added Asif. “One of the hardest parts is starting a conversation or encouraging your buddy to reach out.” But, by promoting this “help-offering behaviour” between friends, Asif hopes men will feel safe enough to speak out. “We always talk with our friends and ask how they’re doing, but it's only ever surface level things. We want to promote authentic conversation between friends.” Asif noted. One of the ways of helping spread this awareness is by going to buddyup.ca, and applying to become a “Champion.” The campaign will then provide print materials — things such as air fresheners for cars or stickers to put anywhere. Asif pointed out being a “Champion” doesn’t have to involve public speaking or talking to hundreds of people. “It’s subtle, no expectations and depends entirely on your comfort level.” Asif gave an example of a construction company that became champions, and put air fresheners in all their vehicles. “People had reached out saying how important it was to them to feel safe and un-ridiculed. It was very special.” Asif said he was most proud of Canadians and the uptake the campaign has had over the past year, thanks to Canadians. “It’s even beginning to go worldwide. With people from Australia, Europe and the United States — to name a few — signing up to become ‘Champions.’” Principally, men tend to not seek help, but it’s tough to always be autonomous and self determining, according to Asif. “I know it’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright frightening to reach out to a friend you’re worried about. But I would challenge everyone to reach out.” On Thursday (June 17) at 7 p.m., the Horizon School Division is hosting an online workshop about men’s health and suicide awareness. For more info visit horizon.ab.ca.
Kenyon Stronski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times