Buddy Up uses friendship to help prevent men from suffering in silence

via The Globe and Mail 

Mike Principalli, who started BuddyUp, a male suicide prevention program that asks men to start conversations with their friends about their mental health, in Calgary on June 17.TODD KOROL/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Mike Principalli first learned about Buddy Up, a male suicide prevention program, during a Calgary Construction Association webinar early in the pandemic. As a safety manager, Mr. Principalli was keen to champion the program at his Calgary company.

“It’s a broad stroke, but I think it’s pretty true for the construction industry that men are supposed to be stoic and not show or share their feelings, so it’s important that we do check in with our buddies,” he said.

Launched in 2020, the annual campaign that runs every June encourages conversations about mental health among men, who die by suicide at three times the rate of women, according to the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention, which created the program. Buddy Up is specifically tailored to men because, as focus groups organized by the non-profit found, while men too often suffer in silence, they do want to help friends who may be in need.

“We wanted to create a campaign that actually resonates and works with guys,” said Akash Asif, director of external relations for the Centre for Suicide Prevention. “Although guys typically feel very uncomfortable asking for help when they are struggling themselves, they are very willing to help their buddies.”

The program, which has grown to have more than 600 individuals and organizations participating across Canada this month, includes a four-step guide for men to help their friends and co-workers, Mr. Asif said. This includes paying attention to the people around you and noticing changes in their behaviour; starting a conversation by asking how they are doing; keeping that conversation going; and, importantly, knowing your role.

“We’re not counsellors. Encourage them to reach out to others,” Mr. Asif said.

The campaign also provides participants with posters, stickers and air fresheners for vehicles in the hope they will spark conversations.

The majority of the more than 100 trucks at Mr. Principalli’s company have the Buddy Up air fresheners in them.

“It’s just a safe place for our guys to talk about things,” he said. “Luckily we’ve had some situations where people have approached asking for more in