INNISFAIL – When it comes to courage and overcoming the stigma of men’s mental health issues, there has been no greater inspiration in Rebecca Aspden's life than her brother-in-law Cody Stamp.
The retired bull rider and motocross racer is a severe traumatic brain injury survivor, a man whose life as a once tough as nails cowboy changed forever. He was inspired to survive his injury and trudge forward on his long road of recovery when a moment flashed that he just had to reach out to loved ones.
“One of the hardest things I ever did was to tell them I was messed up,” said Stamp.
He said this and much more about this remarkable and inspiring journey in the forward of the Real Talk With Men 2021 Calendar, a project spearheaded by Aspden in partnership with the Town of Innisfail, along with social agencies committed to ending the stigma around men talking about mental issues.
“True to Cody’s style he immediately stepped up and was the first man to become involved in the initiative,” said Aspden, a practice facilitator with Wolf Creek Primary Care Network. “When you read his story, you will see how brave and honest he is. Like all the men is this calendar, he is a man of depth, character and strength.”
Last summer Aspden, a resident of Springbrook, was a participant in an online Community Conversation forum led by Karen Bradbury, the Town of Innisfail's community and social development coordinator.
The goal for the forum’s participating regional service providers was to address issues like suicide, domestic violence and mental health challenges, and how the community could respond to them.
The idea of a calendar was raised. One was found from Stettler in 2018 that focused on domestic violence.
“We felt the idea was really great but we wanted to take it in a different direction. If we say we are against this I think that is more punitive and it adds to the shame,” said Aspden. “We wanted it to be in support of. We wanted it to say, ‘hey, I am struggling too and we will stand beside you – so not against something. We want to stand beside you.”
With brother-in-law Cody already on her radar, the decision was made to go with the calendar and to focus the project on the previously taboo notion of men reaching out to start conversations about mental health, suicide, addiction and domestic abuse.
“Once we started it took off from there,” said Bradbury, adding the calendar idea was expanded to include posters for businesses and coasters for local facilities to get the message out far and wide to local establishments. "I am really excited as I think it is a great initiative to reduce some of that stigma of trying to encourage men to ask for help when they need it.
“We want to normalize having those difficult conversations because until we have those difficult conversations it’s really hard to provide the supports,” added Bradbury. “That is why it’s important to take the lid off of it and open up that, and because we expanded on it with posters and coasters, we are hoping to have a far greater reach.”
With funding of more than $8,200 from FCSS, the project was able to move boldly forward with the participation of several male leaders in Innisfail, all of them offering messages of courage, hope and inspiration. All of the participants were photographed by Kyiah Kristina for the calendar.
“As a man you are not allowed to talk about your feelings, that you are not to talk about if your gay, you’re not to talk about if you are sad, and that all you’re supposed to do is be there and support your family. You are supposed to suffer silently,” said Dale Dunham, co-owner with his life partner Shaun Steen of The Coffee Cottage, and partners with the calendar project. “It’s my belief that in the last few years there has been a very big paradigm shift in society in general about men being able to talk about it, being able to talk about shame and vulnerability, and the language behind that.”
Todd Becker, the chief administrative officer for the town, acknowledged that men do confront challenges with living and with the stigma of mental health, as well as the inability to share these issues. He felt it was important for him to be a part of the calendar project, and to demonstrate to his colleagues, friends, peers and family members he is not immune to these challenges, nor is he alone.
“When I was asked to speak out, I jumped on it right away. For me it’s a very important conversation to have,” said Becker, adding he’s filled with admiration for the courageous stories of hope included in the project. “We all have stuff. Nobody is immune to it.”
Project organizers scheduled an official public launch at an open house at The Coffee Cottage on Nov. 12 but it had to be cancelled due to concerns from AHS with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the calendar is available free of charge at various locations in Innisfail, including Collective House, The Coffee Cottage, Co-op, Dark Woods Brewing and Coffee Roasting, Jackson's Pharmasave, Innisfail Medical Clinic, Innisfail town office, Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion and Tim Hortons.
Both Aspden and Bradbury say there are future plans to host a men’s mental health summit in the future, and to work with Men’s Sheds Canada (http://menssheds.ca), which was founded in Winnipeg in 2011 by Doug Mackie.
“Men Sheds consistently show decreased rates of anxiety and depression in their members,” said Aspden.“Suicide Prevention’s Buddy Up Program also recommends Men Sheds as a great resource for those that are struggling.
“Our aim would be for an Innisfail shed to be multigenerational,” she added. “Doug provides support and advice to those who are trying to start a shed in their community.”
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