Farmer Wellness Initiative Focuses on Helping Farmers in Need

A telehealth line that makes mental wellness support available to all Ontario farmers and farm families is now live. It is part of the Farmer Wellness Initiative (FWI) which addresses growing mental health concerns in the agricultural sector by offering more accessible mental health and wellness support to farm families across the province.

“The mental health crisis in the agricultural community has been well documented in recent years and the Farmer Wellness Initiative fills a critical gap for farmers and their families across Ontario,” says Peggy Brekveld, farmer, and President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “Bottom line – if you’re part of a farm family in Ontario and need mental health support for any reason, this telehealth line is available to you.”

OFA has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ontario Division and LifeWorks to develop and launch this initiative. It is the first step of a multi-year, provincewide program that provides free counselling services virtually, in-person or on the phone by professional counsellors with agricultural backgrounds and training. The confidential helpline is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in English and French, as well as up to 30 other languages, and the new FWI website explains how to use the free service.

Tracey Arts is the OFA’s Zone Director representing members in Oxford and Elgin counties and a dairy farmer. She says what she really likes about the program is that it is unique and geared towards farmers. “We don’t have to spend that half hour, fifteen minutes, describing the day in the life of a farmer. That would take away from us going and asking for help. Let’s be honest. We are proud people, and we don’t normally ask for help. We don’t ask for help when we should.” Arts adds that farming has many aspects that are out of their control such as weather which only adds to the stress. “Stuff breaks down. Parts are hard to get because the supply chain isn’t there right now. When you are working on a short timeline to get the crops off, it is that added stress.”

Arts encourages famers in the area not to wait until the stress reaches an extreme level. “You have to feel the need to talk to someone, and that is what this is for. You don’t have to wait until it gets to a breaking point. It doesn’t have to get to an extreme and it doesn’t have to be farm related. It can be for anything, not just farming issues.”

Arts wants to make it very clear that any communication with the initiative is confidential, but she says so far it is working. “It is being well-used, people are calling in, we do know that, but there are no specifics because of the confidentiality involved.” She adds its available on demand since farming is a 365 days a year job so anyone can call at any time.

To raise awareness, OFA has launched the Farmer Wellness Initiative – Fields to Forks campaign with different Bell Media outlets across the province that includes TV, radio, print and online ads. A mental health focused one-minute film, specific to FWI, will be widely shared across social media platforms. FWI also had a booth alongside CMHA Ontario at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock and materials and giveaways were available at the International Plowing Match in Kemptville earlier this week.

“We want to make as many farmers and their families as possible aware of this new service and that help is available if someone needs it, regardless of their farm organization membership or affiliation,” says Bruce Buttar, OFA director and Chair of the Farmer Wellness Initiative Advisory Committee. “We’ve been developing many resources to help break the silence around mental health, including the new FWI website that helps people identify when they might need help and what happens once they pick up the phone to make that first call.”

Other advisory committee members represent the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, L'Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens, National Farmers’ Union, Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario, University of Guelph, and the Rural Ontario Institute.

The mental health helpline for farmers can be reached at 1-866-267-6255. Additional resources are available on the Farmer Wellness Initiative website at Paid for in part by the governments of Canada and Ontario and through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wilmot-Tavistock Gazette