Mental health checkups are for farmers, too

mental health checkup

Highlights

  • Chronic stress has a direct link to mental health problems, including depression
  • Since farmers can’t leave their worries at the office, they face many pressures on a constant basis
  • Treatment facilities are not always available in rural areas, but online counselling services are becoming more popular

Farming is a unique way of life that offers many rewards. But many pressures also come with the territory, from market prices and debt loads to machinery upkeep and repair to weather and dealing with family. And unlike most jobs, farmers can’t go home and leave those worries behind.

Stress and mental health

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist – nor a psychiatrist – to get an inkling for the impacts that such relentless responsibilities can have on mental health. Many studies show a direct correlation between chronic stress and a multitude of mood disorders, including depression. It also increases the risk of developing a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and weakened immune systems.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist – nor a psychiatrist – to get an inkling for the impacts that such relentless responsibilities can have on mental health.”

Trouble is, farmers have a reputation for being tough, and learn from an early age to put on a brave face and work through their problems.

“I fooled a lot of people,” says Gerry Frieson, a prominent Manitoba farmer who struggled with depression a decade ago and now talks and writes about his recovery.

“Looking back, I now recognize it’s ingrained in us that if we just work harder we will get rid of these problems, whether it’s financial stress or depression.”

Awareness is half the battle

It doesn’t have to be that way. Awareness campaigns by various mental health care stakeholders, for example, have helped to both increase understanding and reduce the stigma of mental health conditions. Treatment methods, too, continue to improve, as has the access to mental health services and programs.

“Many more Canadians deal with mental health problems every year than cancer, diabetes and respiratory problems combined,” says Mark Henick, program manager with Mental Health Works, an offshoot of one of Canada’s oldest charities, the Canadian Mental Health Association.

According to Henick, who became a mental health advocate after a passerby stopped him from jumping off a Cape Breton bridge at age 15, most mental health conditions are treatable.

“The challenge for many people, especially middle-aged and older men,” he adds, “is to realize mental health issues are normal.” Henick says that realization can make it easier to seek help.

Help is available

While that help is more accessible for people who live in big cities, where most mental health services are concentrated, the Internet is breaking down the distance barriers to rural regions. Saskatchewan, for example, is the first and so far only Canadian province to offer an online counselling service for depression and anxiety called OnlineTherapyUser.ca.

Led by psychologist Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos from the University of Regina, the free service notably offers a five-lesson course on how to improve well-being and cope with problems.

From an AgriSuccess article (Jan./Feb. 2016) by Mark Cardwell.