A year after a failed suicide attempt, bullfighter Travis James has found a new lease on life, with help from an Airdrie-based non-profit organization.
On April 24, 2020, James attempted to take his own life. The Edson, Alta. resident said he was in a bad place mentally, at a time when the onset of public health restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted his livelihood as a bullfighter.
“There were no rodeos and that’s how I make a large portion of my income,” he said. “It got to be too much.”
Fortunately, James is still around, and since that fateful day, he’s been able to receive help from the Thumbs Up Foundation – a non-profit organization in Airdrie that aims to improve access to mental health-care and resources and raise awareness of suicide prevention.
The Thumbs Up Foundation was formed by married couple Kim and Kim Titus in 2015 after their son Braden passed away from suicide. After a family member of James told the Tituses about his struggles, the Airdrie organization got in touch with the bullfighter and set him up with their mental health resources and network.
Kim Titus, the charity’s co-chair, said she is immensely proud of how far James has come in the last year, with regard to his mental health progress.
“I can’t even express the tremendous amount of respect and regard I have for Travis,” she said. “He’s a bullfighter, for God’s sake. He lives in that world and his courage to come and talk about his experience, to face it head-on and be a spokesperson and ombudsman for the mental health movement and the message he has – I just hold him in extraordinarily high regard.”
According to James, since being connected with Thumbs Up Foundation, he has utilized their counselling services and undergone a cognitive brain analysis.
As a way of saying thank you to the charity for its support, he kicked off #StacheTheStigma last summer – a fundraising campaign that aims to raise money for the Thumbs Up Foundation and strike up a conversation about mental health. Until May 24, James said he is growing out his moustache and selling T-shirts emblazoned with #StacheTheStigma on them, with the proceeds supporting the Thumbs Up Foundation.
He said he has been growing out his moustache since August 2020 – more than 260 days – as part of the campaign, and his initial goal was to raise $13,000. He added he had raised approximately $4,000 as of April 15.
“I was hoping to reach $13,000 by the May long weekend but it’s hard right now to fundraise because we keep getting locked down,” he said.” It’s hard to reach out and ask people to donate when lots of people are losing their jobs, but any goal is better than nothing.”
James is encouraging people to donate to the foundation at bit.ly/2QJZgmw
Titus said initiatives and campaigns like #StacheTheStigma are what it is going to take to help end the stigma associated with mental illness. She said having someone like James, who is associated with the typically-macho world of bullfighting, be upfront about his mental health struggles is a big step forward.
“In my world, it’s first and foremost an awareness campaign,” she said.
“You never know – and he may never know – who he’s impacted, whose mind he changes and who hears his message who needs to hear his message. That’s first and foremost the biggest thing. We’re grateful for our relationship with Travis and everything he’s doing – he’s a great ambassador for mental health.”
With the finish line for #StacheTheStigma just a month away, James said he intends to continue raising funds and support for Thumbs Up Foundation, even after the May 24 deadline has passed.
As for the moustache, he added he’s taken to his new facial hair and may decide not to part with it quite yet.
“I might just shave my head instead because I’m kind of liking the moustache,” he said.