Ontario farmers and their families can now access more mental health supports

·3 min read
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has teamed up with Canadian Mental Health Association to launch Agriculture Wellness Ontario, which offers services for farmers such as counselling, suicide prevention and mental health literacy programs. (Submitted by Ian McCreary - image credit)
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has teamed up with Canadian Mental Health Association to launch Agriculture Wellness Ontario, which offers services for farmers such as counselling, suicide prevention and mental health literacy programs. (Submitted by Ian McCreary - image credit)

Ontario farmers now have access to more mental health supports offering counselling, suicide prevention and mental health literacy programs.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) has teamed up with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to launch Agriculture Wellness Ontario, which offers three different services for farmers and their families.

They are:

Peggy Brekveld, a farmer in the Thunder Bay area and president of the OFA, said it's important for farmers to feel supported and confident they can reach out for help.

She said issues around inflation, supply chain, drought and animal illnesses have put more pressure on local farmers.

"Farming lends itself to a very different response to life. We often try to solve problems by ourselves and work hard. Sometimes we think the solution is just keep working," she said. "Farmers have a lot on their plate on top of the ordinary things like family."

Carmen Groleau/CBC
Carmen Groleau/CBC

The pandemic also had a significant impact on many farmers, who already work in a profession that can often be isolating, Brekveld said.

A recent survey out of the University of Guelph found farmers' mental health worsened during the pandemic more than it did for most Canadians.

"It drove us to even more isolation, as things like county fairs and the curling or hockey rink I might have gone to were closed," she said.

Breaking barriers and stigma

Brekveld hopes the partnership with CMHA will bring more awareness and ultimately reduce the stigma around mental health.

Andria Jones-Bitton, director of Well-Being Programming at the Ontario Veterinary College at U of G and one of the lead researchers for In the Know, said the partnership between CMHA and OFA acknowledges a need in the agriculture community.

"It's a great sign that we're starting to put resources to the people who really need it in agriculture," she told CBC News. 

In the Know has now been delivered in several provinces. In Ontario, Jones-Bitton said, about 350 people have gone through the program and another 300 in Manitoba.

The four-hour workshop teaches people in the agriculture community how to recognize signs of someone struggling with their mental health, and how to connect them to resources and help.

She said efforts like Agriculture Wellness Ontario help farmers and their families get help when they need it.

"We know from our previous research that time, geography and money can be big issues in accessing help," she said.

Many rural towns don't have the same services as urban cities forcing farmers to take several hours out of their day to travel for an appointment.

"What's great about the new programs coming out of the CMHA Ontario division is that many of these counselling supports, for example through the Farmer Wellness Initiative, can be done on the farmer's own time via telephone or online or in person," she added.

"I think it's terrific that it's eliminating some of those barriers that we know are an issue."