Farm stress adds up

·3 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The stresses on farmers are many. Possibility of drought. Supply chain snags. Animal diseases. Inflation. It could lead down a lonely, debilitating road for those in the farmland business.

But there’s hope on the horizon. The Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario) and Ontario Federation of Agriculture have teamed up to announce Agriculture Wellness Ontario, a trio of programs designed to ensure farmers are receiving mental health support when and where they need it.

The three projects are called the Farmers Wellness Initiative, the Guardian Network and In The Know.

Peggy Brekveld, co-owner of Woodstar Farm in Murillo and the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said she saw first-hand the pressures farmers dealt with during last year’s drought.

“I saw significant stress during last year’s drought,” said Brekveld, who was speaking from the Canadian Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock, Ont., on Thursday.

“There were people I was very concerned about. I have seen challenges with animal health and diseases on farms where it has pushed people to the limit. It’s not just a regional issue. It’s everywhere. It’s just as important to have these resources in Thunder Bay as it is in Woodstock or Innisfil.”

The Farmers Wellness Initiative is a free counselling service, the Guardian Network is a volunteer suicide-prevention system and In The Know is a mental health literacy workshop tailored to the agricultural community.

“Seventy-six per cent of farmers today are reporting moderate to high perceived stress and that’s pretty significant,” said Brekveld, who will run again for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture presidency in November.

“The more scary number is looking at — before the (COVID-19) pandemic — one in eight farmers didn’t know if their lives were worth living and we’re now at one in four. Some really scary numbers. Initiatives like this are meant to address and say, ‘It’s OK to say I need help.’ You can say that and you are not alone. As neighbours and friends, we know that farming can be stressful.

“You have the ordinary stresses that everybody has of family and work, but farmers deal with animals and diseases and the weather that can significantly affect their future as well.”

The Farmers Wellness Initiative has all-day, all-year access to free counselling in English and French by phoning 1-866-267-6255. Counsellors have received training to understand the unique stresses that face the farming community.

The Guardian Network is a community-based and evidence-informed volunteer suicide prevention program. Anyone over the age of 18 who is in contact with farmers through their work or place in their community and has successfully completed the training, can become a Guardian.

In The Know is a free mental health literacy training program developed at the University of Guelph by members of the agricultural community for the agriculture community. Through this free, four-hour workshop, participants cover the topics of stress, depression, anxiety, substance use and how to start a conversation around mental well-being. The workshops are facilitated by one of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s mental health professionals using real-life examples from agriculture.

“Our government is listening to the needs of the agricultural community and appreciates just how stressful running a farm can be,” said Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Lisa Thompson, in a news release.

“From dealing with unpredictable weather, commodity prices or increasing costs of production, these pressures are having a real affect on the mental health of farmers and their families. That’s why our government is providing the necessary funding for these programs to help support the mental health of our farmers and their families across Ontario.”

The project is funded in part through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal