Calgary group seeks to normalize discussion around mental health, suicide

WATCH: Huddle Up for Suicide Prevention has been working hard to help end the stigmas around mental health and suicide by bringing the conversation to everyday places. Deb Matejicka reports.

Although it has more than a year since Erin Cripps lost her father, she still smiles and becomes animated when she talks about him.

“He was great. I mean, he was a great dad,” Cripps said.

Cripps’ father Donald Hurst died by suicide at 70 years old.

Cripps doesn’t want people to remember her father for how he died but rather how he lived.

She openly shares personal stories of growing up in Grande Prairie, Alta. about the man who shared his love of the outdoors with her and her two sisters.

“He was so passionate about skiing so we all learned how to ski and that’s actually been a really fun thing to do with our kids now and teach them because that was from grandpa Don,” Cripps said.

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While Cripps doesn’t shy away from discussing her father’s manner of death, she just refuses to dwell on it.

“Suicide is the way in which somebody has passed, it doesn’t define the life lived.” said Jill Viccars, co-founder of Huddle Up for Suicide Prevention (HUFSP).

“We can still celebrate the person that was lost and not dwell in how they passed.”

Cripps connected with the group shortly after her father’s passing.

The Calgary-based organization has been working hard to normalize the conversation around suicide.

“If you ever mention a loss of life to suicide, people don’t know how to respond,” Viccars explained.

“People are so afraid to say the wrong thing so they say nothing. It’s a very lonely and isolating grieving process,” she said.

After losing their brother-in-law by suicide in 2015, Viccars and her husband Clym Atkin wanted to show their support for Atkin’s sister and their two nephews and niece.

“The one year anniversary just happened to be on the Western Final of the Stampeder’s game,” Viccars said.

READ MORE: Bob Layton: Suicide is like a ‘mental health heart attack’

Their plan was to gather family and friends at the game to honour the anniversary and to talk openly about their lost loved one.

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“It was a way we kind of brought community together before (the suicide) and so a way that we kind of connected with family and friends and so it seemed a very natural fit,” Viccars said, adding that HUFSP was created from the overwhelming positive response to the initial gathering.

Viccars said while the event helped normalize the conversation around suicide within her group of family and friends, there was still the added stigma associated with mental health and suicide.

She believes that stigma keeps people from seeking help or talking about either issue.

“I don’t know why there’s the stigma associated with mental health and suicide, but I definitely know it’s there,” she said.

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HUFSP events typically occur in places where people might normally connect with one another such as at football games, music festivals and coffee shops.

READ MORE: Grieving mom returns to Calgary to meet mystery man who shared her son’s dying moments

Events are intended to give people a safe place to discuss their loss without any feelings of shame, guilt or hesitation.

“It’s been amazing to have those conversations over a tailgate party and to have people come up and say ‘I lost my sister ten years ago’ or you know ‘I recently lost a son’ or a brother because everyone’s there for that,” Viccars said.

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HUFSP has grown quickly since it’s first event in 2016.  There are now chapters in Edmonton and Regina.

“We have a bit of a vision or a dream now that potentially Huddle Up can occur now in every CFL city across the country,” Viccars said.

HUFSP will host its next event in Calgary — a tailgate party and Stampeder’s game September 14.

Tickets for the event are sold out but Viccars says the tailgate party is open to the public and proceeds from the event will go to support the local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), available 24/7, at 1-833-456-4566. For more information on suicide and to find help nearest you, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

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