It’s started off as a passion project.
Today, Jill Viccars and her husband Clym Atkin are on a mission to raise awareness in Calgary about the need to connect mental health and suicide prevention services with those who need it most. They’re doing it through their society Huddle Up for Suicide Prevention.
Three years ago, Viccars’ brother-in-law died by suicide. At that time, they didn’t know what to do, but they knew they wanted to do something. On the one-year anniversary of his death, they began Huddle Up.
It was the CFL West Final with the Calgary Stampeders and they’re big football fans. They wanted to use that to start conversations and raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.
“That first year we were initially thinking we’d sell 20 tickets and we ended up selling 76 and 100 people or so came to the tailgate and we raised $4,000,” Viccars said.
“We were super overwhelmed, we had a great response.”
They did it again last year and sold more than 100 tickets and raised $15,000.
Then, Viccars said they lost another friend to suicide in May. That friend was tied to Calgary’s arts scene. They subsequently put together another event at Festival Hall in September.
“It made us think of how we could open this up to different communities and start the conversation with different groups,” Viccars said.
That event raised $25,000 and brought together eight different city agencies who deal with people suffering from mental illness. All monies raised have gone to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Viccars said the journey over the past three years has taught them there’s a big gap between the services available and awareness about their existence. She said there are so many services available in Calgary, but people don’t know about them. That’s where they want to help.
“We’ve kind of found this little niche, oddly, in the mental health world, where we just want to raise awareness and bring together organization to help people connect with the resources that are available,” she said.
“We’re not trying to compete with anyone in the space, just create accessibility.”
They’re at it again with this weekend’s West Final with the Calgary Stampeders hosting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium. They’ll be there again, with a tailgate party (with a band) to start and then those who’ve purchased Huddle Up tickets will also get game tickets, a seat cushion, a toque and some food and drinks.
This year’s a little different in that it’s their first as a society, so it’s their first marquee event to kick off their campaign. Not only that, but one woman who had come from Edmonton every year is now launching Huddle Up for the first time in Alberta’s capital city.
The first thing they’re trying to spearhead as an organization is a letter-writing campaign to push for a national suicide prevention program in Canada. Viccars said it’s the only G-7 nation without one. In 2016, the federal government did complete a framework for suicide prevention, but there is no funded nationwide strategy.
“We often times have people say, ‘We Googled suicide prevention and you guys are the only thing that came up,’” Viccars said.
“As much as people are talking about mental illness and as much awareness as there is, it’s still really dark in many ways.”
Those interested in participating with Huddle Up’s annual West Final event can still get tickets.
Visit their website for more information on Huddle Up for Suicide Prevention.