Men in Alberta are dying by suicide at a rate three times higher than women — an alarming statistic that the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP) hopes to highlight in a June campaign.
Middle-aged men, between 40 and 60, are at the highest risk.
Of the 603 people who died by suicide in Alberta in 2021, 457 were men, according to data compiled by the Calgary-based CSP.
"Men are expected to really endure pain or hardship without really showing our feelings or complaining," said Akash Asif, external relations director with the CSP, in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.
"So due to these expectations, men are often less likely than women to seek help when they are struggling. Additionally, men as a group are more likely than women to lose relationships over time as well, often because we prioritize career and financial success."
To draw awareness to the issue, the CSP created the "Buddy Up" campaign in 2020, which asks men to have conversations with their "buddies" to find out how they're doing and support them if they're struggling.
The campaign is informed by men — with both an advisory committee and all-male focus groups — and runs all through June.
"Men recognize there is an issue and want to be a part of the solution," Asif said.
"Although guys may not be willing to ask for help for themselves, they are willing to provide support for buddies and keep their buddies safe."
The CSP is offering several educational resources for "Buddy Up" participants, including a four-step guide. It encourages men to pay attention, start a conversation, keep it going and stick to their role.
"Be courageous enough to ask someone how they're doing…. It can get very awkward very quickly if someone tells you that they may not be doing well. So it's important to keep that conversation, ask questions directly, not be judgmental," Asif said.
"We're not counsellors, we are friends. So it's about connecting that person to the appropriate resources, such as the crisis line or other supports."
Of the 56,440 people who contacted Calgary Distress Centre crisis supports last year — including its phone, text, chat and email services – about half identified suicide as their top concern.
Already in 2022, they're seeing an eight per cent increase in suicide-related contacts versus the same time last year.
"We know it has been a difficult few years for people, with the pandemic and the stress and isolation that came with it, other recent events around the world and increasing costs causing a lot of financial stress," Mike Velthuis Kroeze, director of programs and performance for the Distress Centre, said in an email.
"[Suicide is] a difficult topic and many people, especially men, have a hard time bringing it up. You don't have to be a therapist or solve their problems, but being there for them, listening and connecting them to help like [the] Distress Centre may save their life."
'It's costing them their lives'
The campaign resonated with Brady Edwards, 27, an Alberta Utilities Commission worker in Calgary.
He became a "Buddy Up" champion back in 2020 after Asif, his friend, brought him to an information session. Having faced struggles with depression and anxiety himself, the goal of the campaign spoke to him.
"I think there's even still this masculine thinking that men can't talk about their feelings or can't talk about what's bothering them, and it's costing them their lives, and I think that's tragic," he said.
Now, Edwards tries to start conversations with his friends if he notices a change in their mental health. The campaign poster hangs in his office, and it reminds him of how to proceed.
"You're a friend and not a therapist. I think that's a huge point because you're meant to talk. You're meant to talk about what's bothering you and [get] it off the chest," he said.
Although those conversations have been harder to facilitate over the last two years as a result of the pandemic, Edwards said he believes it's getting easier to talk about how you're doing.
"We've all had a tough time. So let's talk about it and let's share our experiences."
The CSP is holding an online information session Thursday — for men and women — to answer questions from those interested in participating in this year's campaign.