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Men in Fort McMurray asked to 'Buddy Up' for suicide prevention

For the first time the Buddy Up campaign is running in Fort McMurray, Alta. The campaign is meant to encourage men to check in with each other, in an effort to prevent suicides.

'We need to take care of each other,' says Fort McMurray counsellor

Men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide, according to the CMHA. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

For the first time, the Buddy Up campaign is running in Fort McMurray, Alta. The campaign is meant to encourage men to check in with each other, in an effort to prevent suicides.

Mike Jones, communications and marketing coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Wood Buffalo, said men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide. 

The Buddy Up program encourages men to sign up and become a champion for the program. They can win prizes by signing up and completing tasks, like playing a board game with a friend or having a barbecue.

"This campaign was created by men, primarily for men," said Jones. 

"The challenges are pretty simple … but all the while it's encouraging you to have a real conversation."

Men can have a "different mentality"; people are told to "toughen up" or "be a man," and this campaign is encouraging men to open up, he said.

He said with the pandemic, mental health has been more difficult for many. 

"Especially some of those camp guys, they're away from their family for weeks, sometimes even months at a time." 

He said typically anyone who works at a camp would have outside opportunities to socialize, but not during the pandemic. 

"The after-effects of COVID aren't going to go away. The stress, the anxiety, the depression, the last year and a half has been really hard on a lot of people," said Jones.

Akash Asif, external relations director for the Centre for Suicide Prevention, said the centre started the campaign in 2020, but this is the first year it's been brought to Fort McMurray. 

He said one in 20 people struggling with thoughts of suicide and this campaign is asking "the other 19 to pay attention and provide that support." 

the Centre for Suicide Prevention is asking men to check in on their friends. (Centre for Suicide Prevention)

The program includes a four-step conversation guide to help people reach out to someone they are concerned about. 

Asif doesn't know how many people or businesses have signed up for the campaign in Fort McMurray, but he said there have been a number of participants. 

"Create an environment where it's appropriate to reach out to someone you're worried about, but also an environment where you know people around you care and so it's easier to seek out help," he said.

He said distress lines across the country have seen significant increases in crisis calls. 

"We need to be cautious," said Asif. "We are challenging men to speak to their friends, speak to their buddies, pay attention, start conversations and then get the proper support and resources for those buddies." 

Janene Hickman, a counsellor in Fort McMurray and trainer for the Centre for Suicide Prevention, signed up to be a champion for the campaign.

She said there's a large population of commuters in town.  "We recognize that many of them perhaps feel disconnected or not as well supported. We also recognize that there sometimes tends to be more stigma for men in accessing support related to their mental health." 

The Buddy Up challenge encourages men to do activities and talk with their friends. (Centre for Suicide Prevention)

"I want to do whatever I can to raise some awareness," said Hickman. "All of us have mental health, whether it's good mental health or maybe poor mental health, and conversations really can save lives." 

She said she likes the Buddy Up program because it's simple: pay attention and have a meaningful conversation. 

"We need to take care of each other." 

The campaign ends June 30. 

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