LAKELAND – The Demeria Memorial group hosted its fifth annual slo-pitch tournament, Stick it to Suicide, in Muriel Lake on Sept. 10 to 11, to draw attention to mental health and to raise awareness on suicide prevention in the Lakeland region.
The Stick it to Suicide tournament had eight co-ed teams competing as well as a concession stand, a raffle, a 50/50 draw and featured a display board where players and volunteers attached photos of loved ones who have been lost to suicide.
Informational posters and resources on mental health crises was on display and spectators and players could give a donation and receive a teal ribbon to pin on their jersey to signify suicide awareness and prevention efforts.
The goal of the seasonal wind-up tournament was not only a means to raise awareness, but also acted a fundraiser for the Demeria Memorial Fund, which works to bring greater public knowledge on mental health crisis intervention, as well as bring courses, workshops and speakers into the Lakeland region, said Ashley Vasseur, a volunteer organizer with the Demeria Memorial group.
One hundred per cent of team $400 registration fees, including all the proceeds raised during the event, will go to the Demeria Memorial Fund projects and local Food Banks in Lakeland, which were selected by the tournaments winning team. According to Vasseur, food insecurity is often another layer that creates emotional challenges for those already struggling.
The two teams that finished the weekend tournament on top were the #Dusters and Weekend at the Burnsies in Group A. In Group B the top teams were Jersey City and Line Drivers.
“This is a wind-up tournament every year for anybody who plays slo-pitch and it's all for non-profits. There are no prizes, no payout. All the money goes towards funding mental health initiatives within the Lakeland,” she explained.
Many courses and training around suicide prevention and mental health can be quite expensive, Vasseur says, adding “(The Demeria group) hopes to bring the course in so that people who work at facilities like the Dragonfly Centre would be able to take this course as well, because suicide isn't just in men or adults, it's also children.”
Over the years the memorial fund has provided Safe Talk courses, brought speakers into school to offer free training to teachers during Professional Development (PD) days and soon they hope to offer a Applied Suicide Intervention Skill Training (ASIST) course.
Bringing men’s needs to the foreground
After losing her father, Tony Demeria to suicide, Vasseur says 20 years later not much has changed in the way of improvement to mental health support for men.
Vasseur says, the Demeria Memorial group gears their programs to include males. “We find that they're always left in the background. Men are always told to put on this strong front face and not show emotion, so we try to bring in some stuff for men in the Lakeland area.”
She believes that being in a region driven by a volatile oil economy has had serious implications on local men’s mental health.
“These guys are supposed to make the money so that their wives can stay at home and raise their children because they're gone for 24 days at a time. Well, when there's no work — there's no money, there's no way to pay bills. Then have their worlds come crashing down upon them. So why aren't employers talking about how much it impacts men,” Vasseur questions.
Even though there are hotlines to call for individuals in distress in the Lakeland area, Vasseur feels that those programs are underutilized because people often don’t reach out in times of crisis or feel as though they shouldn’t seek help or that they don’t need to.
To combat this, Vasseur says that she would like to see conversations around mental health and early intervention incorporated in regular company safety meetings.
“I just wish people could see the other way out,” she says. “That's why I'm hoping to bring more awareness to this conversation, so that people know that you're not alone in this battle. And like I always say to my husband — it's okay to not be okay.”
Rae Michaud, an event organizer, board member for the memorial group and the younger sister of Demeria adds, “The more people we have with this knowledge in the community, hopefully, the better off we are and maybe it'll make a different outcome for a family or two, so they don't have to go through what we went through.”
For individuals interested in getting involved as a volunteer, board member or looking to donate to can contact Rae Michaud through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Demeria Memorial Fund Facebook page.