Emma’s brother Eli, a star athlete and popular student, died by suicide a few weeks after his 17th birthday. It was only through his suicide note, in which he spoke of his persistent sadness, that his family understood that he had been in pain. As Emma, her family and the small community of her rural home town of Rimbey, Alberta grieved the loss of the Eli, many questioned how they had missed his struggle and wondered what they could have done differently.
The shock and horror of Eli’s death moved Emma to participate in the Movember funded Man-Up Against Suicide project. Led by UBC professors Dr. John Oliffe and Dr. John Ogrodniczuk, the Man-Up Against Suicide project interviewed over 60 men and women affected by men’s suicide. The participants narrated their experiences through taking photographs, which are exhibited along with narratives. Emma’s involvement didn’t end with her own participation; she lobbied the research team to bring the project to Rimbey.
Men’s depression and suicide affects everyone. Developing interventions to advance men’s health through awareness and prevention, holds benefits for a lot of people beyond just men at risk for depression.
Emma was convinced that rural contexts can be tough on young men. Her observations that the stigma surrounding men’s depression is more powerful outside of urban settings aligns with the statistics. Risk for suicide among men in rural areas increases by 40% or more the further away one gets from urban centres. Men are four to five times more likely to die by suicide than women in rural areas in Canada.
It was important for the Man-Up Against Suicide project to go to a rural setting to better understand the issue of men’s suicide and to develop strategies to destigmatize men’s depression. When Man-Up Against Suicide went to Rimbey, the research went a bit differently. Emma spread the word about the project to the community. Thirteen community members participated directly in the project, and many others voiced their strong support that something needed to be done to end the tragic deaths of the young men in their town.
Two weeks following interviews Emma and her musician friend Cayley, who had also lost a brother to suicide, co-hosted a photo exhibit and community forum at the Beatty Heritage Hall. “Voicelessness can be such a tragic thing… The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that talking is important” explained Emma in her address at the exhibition opening. “So, I hope that that the end of this project is just the beginning of something a lot bigger, and that we’re able to talk about it.”
The space had standing room only as community members came to view the photos and narratives, listen to speakers, and to discuss how to shift the idea that men should be stoic. After the event, people came forward and offered their support to be ongoing ambassadors of Man-Up Against Suicide.