Stress. It is a word that is bandied about so much that often the impact of it one’s own individual circumstances and on that of others is sometimes lost. One of the coping strategies for those who have high stress jobs is to make the conscious effort to leave the stress of work at work. However, what about those whose work is also their life, whose co-workers are also their family members? This is the reality of agriculture, of farming, of ranching.
Springtime is one of the most stress filled times of the year for farmers. Some would argue that harvest is worse, but in spring if the seed doesn’t get in the ground there will be no harvest to worry about. As well, although there are getting to be fewer farmers who have both livestock and grain for those that do, spring seeding comes right on the heals of calving season and the potential weeks of interrupted sleep that goes along with that. The stress factors can go through the roof, but for too long the men of farming have operated under the ‘strong and silent’ mode and that needs to change.
With funding from the Ministry of Agriculture Farm Safety Program, the Agricultural Health and Safety Network has teamed up with Bridges Health and Do More Ag to deliver four webinars this spring. The ‘Mental Health and Resiliency in the Agriculture Industry’ webinar aims to address mental health and resiliency for producers across the province.
“The agricultural industry is a backbone of the Saskatchewan economy, with a foundation rooted in community and resilience,” said Kendra Ulmer, with the Agricultural Health and Safety Network. “Producers face many unique challenges and stressors, which can lead to mental health issues. Rates of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout are high within the agriculture community. It is more important than ever to have appropriate tools and supports available to producers as we continue to increase knowledge and awareness about mental health.” Resiliency is defined as one’s ability to recover quickly from difficulties and being able to advance despite adversity. "Resiliency is the end competency that is built after improving mental health literacy, support skills, boundaries and self-care,” said Adelle Stewart, Executive Director of Do More Ag. “It is a buildable skill that is achieved over time based on bite-size pieces of education that amalgamated creates increased abilities to better withstand pressure through the use of healthy coping strategies."
To be clear, stress is not mental illness, but chronic stress can lead to increased anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and even suicide. The primary damage from stress is physical and far too many people ignore the fact the human body is built to handle acute or short-lived stress but not chronic stress. “Chronic stress causes heart disease. It is a clandestine cause – not fat or cholesterol – of heart attacks and arterial disease.” (heartmdinstitute.com/stress-relief/what-stress-can-do-to-your-body/) The health implications of chronic stress include headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, lack of motivation, change in appetite, change in sex drive, anger or irritability, difficulty sleeping and an increased risk of developing a viral infection to name but a few. Left untreated, chronic stress can also worsen the effects of other chronic conditions like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and anxiety. (Ohio University, onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/the-physical-effects-of-stress)
“The agricultural industry is a backbone of the Saskatchewan economy, with a foundation rooted in community and resilience,” said Kendra Ulmer. “Producers face many unique challenges and stressors, which can lead to mental health issues. Rates of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout are high within the agriculture community. It is more important than ever to have appropriate tools and supports available to producers as we continue to increase knowledge and awareness about mental health.” As more people talk about mental health the stigma that used to be associated with it is slowly lessening, but it is still for many a very delicate subject. To speak about one’s mental state is opening up about a part of you that no one else knows about, and for many, no one else sees. It can feel like revealing a vulnerability, the kryptonite to the superman powers. And it is not just the farm men who can be impacted by stress, women in agriculture are not just the receptionist at the vet clinic or the parts person behind the desk, women are active partners in farms and as such shoulder an equal amount of stress.
“We recognize the unique stressors that impact Saskatchewan producers,” says Kyle Anderson, Sr. Business Development Consultant at Bridges Health. “By improving the skill of resilience, individuals can cope with challenges they face.”
The weekly webinars are a tool to get producers thinking and talking about stress, mental health and resiliency. As the keynote speaker for the April 7th webinar, Reanna Koob stated, there is no health without mental health. The body needs balance and all aspects of the body need to be maintained and nourished for the body to be healthy, and the things that will support mental wellness not surprisingly also support physical wellness: getting better rest, getting more exercise, getting better nourishment.
But how does one foster mental health resiliency? The first step is always awareness, understanding what it means to be truly healthy and taking steps to ensure that alongside doing everything you can to protect your physical wellbeing you are also taking steps to protect your mental wellbeing. Self-care is not selfish and it can look different for different people. It could be sitting down to watch an hour of television, taking a walk without your cellphone, it can also be just doing something you have been meaning to do that has been nagging you from the back of your mind. Mental wellbeing involves mindfulness. Paying attention, purposefully, to what you are doing in that exact moment and giving yourself permission to not try to multi-task. North American culture pushes everyone to make the most of every possible minute, to juggle as many tasks as possible in the belief that this multi-tasking is ultra-efficient. It’s not, something always suffers, so along with the stress of trying to keep many plates spinning, there is also the stress of knowing that none of those plates are spinning as well as they could. Last but not least, Koob spoke of the importance of setting boundaries. The agriculture community is at its heart a helping one, so sometimes it can be difficult to set boundaries, but they can be an effective way to maintain relationships. Boundaries let others know the permissible ways to interact, for example don’t call after 8:00 unless its an emergency.
“Agriculture is an industry with a foundation of deep rural roots, hard work, resilience, strength and community. In order to uphold that image, those traits can also be the industry’s weakness as they become barriers for speaking up and seeking help.” (https://www.domore.ag/about-us) The first two webinars were held on April 7 and 14, while the remaining two will be held on the 21st and 28th. For more information about the webinars you can contact your local agriculture programs specialist or contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.
April 21, 2021 – 2 p.m to 3 p.m. - Register for webinar [LINK TO:] https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/7973618056264619787
April 28, 2021 – 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. - Register for webinar [LINK TO:] https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4964837472204442891
The Farm Stress Line is available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to provide confidential counselling, support, information and referrals to respond to the needs of individuals living on the farm or in a rural community. Contact them toll-free at 1-800-667-4442.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder