A year ago, Tristen Durocher and Chris Merasty left Air Ronge in northern Saskatchewan on a walk to the provincial legislative grounds in Regina — a distance of more than 600 kilometres.
They aimed to raise awareness about the high rates of youth suicide in the north, calling on the provincial government to adopt a suicide prevention bill that had recently been rejected. That bill has since been passed.
Now, Merasty is continuing his work with a program he started in La Ronge called Men of the North. He works with young men through the program, creating an environment where they can support each other and learn about their culture.
"I was just thinking, 'Why is there no support system in the community for men?'" Merasty said. "There are lots of programs here based with women, children and elders and stuff like that, but nothing too specific that focuses and deals with the men."
Men of the North held its first meetings in early 2020, and the group continues to find ways to support men of all ages suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression, Merasty says.
The program is a much-needed alternative to the kind of care men in his community are usually offered, he says.
"A lot of us have to travel down these northern roads to go to these specialists and get the proper help and attention we need. We don't have the proper amenities."
Merasty says the program is a tangible way to make a difference in his community by working with young men who otherwise might be at higher risk of dying by suicide, or experiencing depression and other mental health issues.
The age of the boys and men who are currently part of the program ranges from 12 to 78.
Currently, the young men in the program are taking on a "40-yard challenge," working to clean up the yards of 40 elders in their community.
If they're successful, they'll earn a four-day canoe trip.
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.
You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.
You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone. Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.