Everyone knows the stereotypical farmer – strong, stoic, rarely discussing, or even having, feelings. The more romantic images portray farming as an idyllic, stress-free frolic through life in the fresh air and sunshine. But like a lot of stereotypes – these images often fall far from reality.
Farmers must deal with stress on many levels – our jobs, homes, and families are often intertwined in such a way that they are almost impossible to separate. A threat to one area is a threat to all. As we adapt to changes in all aspects of our businesses, sometimes it seems as if the only thing constant is change and things that are beyond our control.
People who are active on social media – specifically Facebook and Twitter – are well aware of the talk lately around mental health issues amongst farmers. Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” week inspired people to bravely come forward and post their very personal and often painful stories online in an attempt to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues and start a conversation. The smiling faces and success stories often are masks for the battles fought behind the scenes that aren’t talked about so much.
In January, Canadian farmers even made the CBC news for their struggles with mental health. This was in large part due to a new organization that was launched in Edmonton – Do More Agriculture Foundation. Farmers are encouraged to share their stories, using the hashtag #DoMoreAg on Twitter.
#Do More Ag is helping to realize this culture in agriculture by creating awareness about mental health and breaking the stigma that currently exists while building a community of support and resources for those impacted and affected. “We will help all producers realize they are not alone and they have an entire industry behind them.” #Do More Ag encourages people to “Talk More. Ask More. Listen More. Help us champion the mental wellbeing of all Canadian producers.” More information about the foundation can be found online at www.domore.ag .
According to a report conducted by the Huron Perth United Way, the term “mental illness” does not refer to a single disease. “It’s a broad classification for many psychiatric disorders including: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and organic brain disorders.” http://perthhuron. unitedway.ca/social-research-planning-council/mental-health/
Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, analyzed more than 1,100 responses when she studied farmers across the country in 2015 and 2016. She found that stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and emotional exhaustion are all higher among farmers than among other groups. The survey found 45 per cent of survey respondents had high stress, 58 per cent had varying levels of anxiety, and 35 per cent had depression.
While farmers tend to recognize that seeking professional help does actually improve mental health problems, farmers were reluctant to look for help. The survey showed that 40 per cent of respondents said they’d feel uneasy getting professional help “because of what people might think.”
That’s where groups like #Do More Ag come in. While I didn’t follow all of the communication online, I did notice that when one person would present a story, others would comment that they had similar struggles and everyone seemed grateful to have a place to share stories and have an open conversation.
Depression is one of the most common mood disorders and affects people of all ages, genders, and from all walks of life. Depressive illness can change the way a person thinks and behaves, and how the body functions. Some of the signs to look for are: feeling worthless, helpless or hopeless, sleeping more or less than usual, eating more or less than usual, having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, loss of interest in taking part in activities, decreased sex drive, avoiding other people, overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief, feeling unreasonably guilty, loss of energy, feeling very tired, thoughts of death or suicide. Depression becomes an illness, or clinical depression, when those feelings are severe, last for several weeks, and begin to interfere with one’s work and social life.
You can find help in Huron and Perth counties. Your family doctor is a great resource and someone you are already familiar with. In addition, the Huron Perth branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association provides resources and support. More information can be found by calling 1-888-875-2944, emailing geninfo@ cmha-hp.on.ca or checking their website at
http://www.cmhahp. on.ca/view.php? public/Home .
One of the most important ways to help people strug-gling with a mental health issue is to work together as a community to remove the stigma. “An astounding one in five people living in Perth County will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – which means there is a good chance that you, or someone close to you, will be affected.” http://perthhuron. unitedway.ca/social-research-planning-council/mental-health/ .
Often it is difficult for the person suffering to recognize that they need help, making a support system of family and friends even more vital. Remember that it wasn’t that long ago that people were ashamed to admit a cancer diagnosis. Today we recognize that it is an illness that can be treated and we don’t blame the person who is suffering.
Mental illness is the same. Taking away the stigma will help families and individuals become more willing to seek treatment earlier, when it can be most beneficial. This in turn can reduce the amount of time people are unable to live productive and fulfilling lives. Don’t wait for 20 years to get real about what is happening. ◊