Isolation has always been a factor in the mental health of agricultural producers in the region, especially during the winter months, and its impact has only been amplified through the COVID-19 pandemic.
This increase in isolation has been noticed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan branch. Senior Consultant, David Nelson with CMHA Saskatchewan says he has seen an increase in calls to the Farm Stress Line and to the CMHA.
“I understand that the Farm Stress Line has had more calls as well. At CMHA we don’t necessarily ask if they are a producer or not, but we have had lots of calls from rural areas and other areas of people who are under stress and looking for support,” Nelson explained.
While CMHA Saskatchewan does not provide counseling, they do listen to what the callers have to say and will offer suggestions for the next steps moving forward.
“We generally listen to the story of their issues, we speak to them about their situation. We don’t do formal counseling, but what we can do is recommend them a place that might be near them and they can get counseling from.”
Nelson notes that there are different types of stressors that can be seen in producers who call, the most commonly seen being the loneliness brought on by the winter months. He explained that loneliness is something that can be easily treated, but has run into complications due to the pandemic.
“There are all kinds of issues that pop up. I think that the loneliness and the general feeling that you can get depressed at this time of year, from Christmas until now, there’s the seasonal affective disorder kinds of issues that can pop up. Family stressors with people suddenly being unable to leave home or working from home.”
To help cope with loneliness, Nelson says that producers should do anything they can to avoid isolation. While the public health order suggests staying home, Nelson believes that producers should take any opportunity to get out of the house when it is safe to do so.
“Do not isolate yourself. As much as you can, on social media or by phone or whatever means you have, keep in contact with friends and relatives so that you don’t feel like you’re so cooped up in your home,” Nelson explained. “It’s fine to go out and get some fresh air, but not in this kind of weather,” he laughed. “In better weather, you can go for a walk, you can do outside activities, as long as you’re not in a group of people too close.”
Nelson warns that social media is a double-edged blade. While it can be great for keeping in contact with both friends and family, it can become a rabbit hole that leads to what Nelson dubs ‘Doom Scrolling’.
Doom Scrolling is the act of continually scrolling through social media and taking in a constant flow of negative information. Nelson says that this can quickly become a factor in stress.
“Another thing to do is to not do this kind of thing we call ‘Doom Scrolling’, which is really just watching more and more information about COVID or about the world in general,” Nelson explained. “Some of that is fine, but it’s easy for people to get sucked in and start watching that too much and that really affects your mood and your ability to cope with stress as well.”
While social media provides a great opportunity to keep in touch, Nelson says it is wise to limit yourself while on it.
“I think it’s all too easy for us when we get stressed or anxious to get caught up in the nonsense going on in social media.”
For those who feel that their sense of isolation or depression has become worse, Nelson recommends counseling. He says that there is a stigma around going to counseling or therapy, but it is designed to help.
Counseling provides an opportunity to speak with someone who can give a new opinion on the things a producer might be facing and offer solutions to the problems.
“Sometimes with counseling there’s the feeling that there must be something wrong with you if you’re going to counseling, but the fact of the matter is sometimes just talking to somebody outside of a friend or relative that doesn’t have a lot of baggage so to speak to bring along can really help to clear your mind of some of these concerns and actually give you coping mechanisms”
Nelson said that if there are thoughts of self-harm, the individual should immediately go to the hospital and seek help.
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator