Alberta documentary sheds light on men in the oilpatch and suicides

It’s traditionally an uncomfortable and rarely talked about subject: men and suicide.

Stories of men taking their own lives in Alberta is what motivated two filmmakers to want to expose the issue.

Omar Mouallem and Dylan Rhys Howard have produced a documentary called Digging in the Dirt.

“Growing up in Alberta, I had a lot of prejudice towards the oil and gas culture and their way of life, but we felt it was time to shed light on the issue in a way that was more compassionate towards people in oil and gas,” Rhys Howard said.

The documentary explores a culture that sees men mask their feelings and the risks of closeting those emotions.

“The classic male way of dealing with trauma or anything difficult is to suck it up, isolate and drink more,” Rhys Howard said. “That’s the perfect cocktail for despair.

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“In oil and gas, it can be exacerbated by extreme isolation, long work hours and a lot of these men are cut off from their support systems.”

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A not-for-profit called Next Gen Men promotes positive masculinity. Executive director Jake Stika invited the filmmakers to have an open discussion about the film.

“I myself came to understand men’s issues with my struggles around mental health and depression in my 20s,” Stika said.

“One of my co-founders happens to be my best friend and he lost his little brother to suicide in 2007.”

READ MORE: Men have a suicide rate 3 times higher than women. What’s causing it?

Mara Grunau, executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention, said while women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide.

“Men typically choose more irreversible and unstoppable means once they’re at the point of attempting, so there aren’t a lot of last-hope interventions,” Grunau said.

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“For women, because of the way they approach it, there’s other ways to save them.”

If you are in need of support, you can call the Distress Centre at 403-266-HELP (4357).

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