Melanie ConsCanadian Farm News

From FCC Express

By Owen Roberts

Across the country, efforts are increasing to address farmers’ mental health needs.

In government, academia, industry – and indeed in the field itself – problems that have long been hidden or dismissed are starting to see the light of day.

These efforts follow a University of Guelph study in 2015-2016 of more than 1,000 participants that revealed nearly 60 per cent met the classification for anxiety, 45 per cent for high stress and 35 per cent for depression.

Grassroots empowerment and encouragement 

Nationally, a new grassroots, non-profit organization called the Do More Agriculture Foundation has been created to encourage, empower and support farmers’ efforts to take care of their mental well-being. “We will help all producers realize they are not alone and they have an entire industry behind them,” it says.

Do More Agriculture stresses it is not an emergency help line, but rather, an advocacy group that intends to keep mental health in the spotlight.

This consistency is key, says Andria Jones-Bitton, the University of Guelph researcher who pioneered farmers’ mental health studies in Canada. She found previous efforts to deal with the issue lacked a long view.

“It’s exciting to see this organization, created by farmers, for farmers, come about,” she says. “It’s only through such collective effort will we create lasting changes to support farmer mental health and wellness.”

Industry gets behind mental health support

Bayer Crop Science is the first ag business to get behind Do More Agriculture. Earlier this month the company donated $20,000 to support its programs.

Saskatchewan producer Kim Keller, co-founder of the foundation, says the donation will encourage producers to talk about mental health within their operations, families and communities. She looks forward to farming’s culture changing, to where all producers feel encouraged and supported to take care of their mental well-being.

Al Driver, Bayer Crop Science Canada’s president and CEO, says the company believes partnering with Do More Agriculture can help increase awareness of mental health issues, and break the stigma that exists in the agriculture industry.

“We see first-hand the challenges that farmers face,” he says. “We encourage them to access these resources to manage their well-being.”

Other recognition is afoot, at home and abroad. In April, the House of Commons agriculture committee said it would meet with producers to understand their issues, share best practices, review available resources and identify gaps related to mental health.

And in the U.S., legislation has been introduced to fund mental health services for farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers, as part of the next farm bill.

New mental health research effort underway

At the University of Guelph, Jones-Bitton and her team are embarking on new research to tailor some existing mental health resources for farmers, and create others – such as a mental health literacy program – to help address issues on both sides of the border.

“It’s incredible to see these efforts culminating across farming commodities, across disciplines, and across Canada and beyond,” Jones-Bitton says. “We have been overwhelmed by the support being offered to the research and outreach we’re doing.”