In June 2021, the Suicide Awareness Council Wellington Dufferin had a working group that partnered with farmers to create a magazine called Grounded (https://sacwd.ca/content/working-groups/grounded_v3_final_revised_small.pdf). This was developed to help people in farming and rural communities start conversations about their mental health.
To create this magazine, the council consulted Robyn Thomas from the Stigma Free Society and Alana Coneybear with the Farmer’s Toolbox and the Listowel Agricultural Society.
So, why the focus on farming? What is different for those in agriculture? Thomas explained that in rural and agricultural communities there is a mental health crisis due to the lack of resources, long waitlists, and stigma that discourages people from getting help.
While there are numerous benefits to living in rural communities, such as access to nature, a strong sense of community and a connection to the land, there are also difficulties. Farming life is unique, and the challenges are often not well understood.
In 2016 a study by the University of Guelph that surveyed 1,100 farmers found 45 per cent of respondents had high stress levels, 58% met criteria for anxiety, and 35% met the criteria for depression.
Despite these high numbers, all sources report that farmers can be apprehensive to discuss their mental health and are often hesitant to seek out mental health supports and services.
Thomas stated that self-reliance and strength are wonderful and important values in the farming community, but they sometimes deter people from seeking help when they really need it.
The magazine Grounded was created by farmers for other farmers in hopes that peer to peer support would be beneficial. In partnership with The Listowel Agricultural Society, the Farmers’ Toolbox was created for these same reasons.
Please see https://www.thefarmerstoolbox.com/ and explore their links to stories of farmers lived experiences, struggles, and encouraging strategies. They state that one in three farmers struggle with their mental health. This is far more pervasive than people might expect.
Thomas believes there are many factors that contribute to these high numbers. Farming stressors such as commodity prices, farm debt, animal health, long hours, uncertain futures, and public stigma towards those who farm are all factors that can leave farmers vulnerable to depression, anxiety, alcohol and medication misuse, and overall poor mental health.
I have heard people say that farming is not just a job, but a lifestyle where the work and livestock come first. The days are long and the demands are constant. You can’t escape and leave work behind.
Through the great work at the Stigma Free Society, their Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit has brought education and hope to over 6,000 people in remote communities across our nation. Since its inception in spring 2021, they have let people in the farming community know that they are not alone in their struggles. The website includes many engaging resources tailored for youth, families and seniors living in rural communities. https://stigmafreesociety.com/rural-mental-wellness-toolkit.
There are interviews and articles about rural mental wellness written by guest contributors involved in agriculture. Topics include issues facing farming communities such as managing financial stress in farming, improving sleep, men’s mental health, acknowledging climate change anxiety, managing uncertainty and stress on the farm, addressing substance use stigma, tips for combating isolation, and more.
In addition to real people sharing their real stories, both websites offer local helplines and resources. The resources through The Stigma Free Society and the Farmers’ Toolbox are helping to provide support to individuals that is tailored to their rural way of life.
Another helpful resource is the Farmer Wellness Initiative that was developed in response to the study at the University of Guelph. Please see https://farmerwellnessinitiative.ca. There is also a toll free number with 24/7 service available specifically for farmers and their families. At 1-866-267-6255 you will be connected with free counselling and mental health support.
I hope this article helps all of us to open our minds to the struggles and concerns of our agriculture communities. Please seek out the heartening and helpful resources mentioned here.
* * *
Paula Frappier is an education coordinator with Homewood Health Centre and the CMHA. The “Open Mind” column is sponsored by community partners who are committed to raising awareness about mental health, reducing stigma and providing information about resources that can help. For local mental health resources/information, visit www.mdsgg.ca or call 1-844-HERE247.