Safety first: How to manage your mental health when farm stress strikes
Farming is stressful, and poorly managed stress could cost life or limb.
Some years, the stresses faced by Canadian farmers are quite manageable, but other years, the obstacles seem insurmountable – drought, floods, fires and disease.
“All of these things just add to the stressors that farmers already have,” says Gerry Friesen, founder and mediator with Signature Mediation. “Farming over the years has become incredibly stressful because there are so many decisions that farmers have to make, so it’s very easy to become overwhelmed.”
Stress has this insidious way of getting to us. When we’re distracted, things can happen.
Diagnosed with anxiety and depression when farming, Friesen says he feels lucky to still have all his limbs.
“Stress has this insidious way of getting to us. It affects us mentally, physically, emotionally. When that happens, I know from personal experience, I easily become distracted,” he says. “When we’re dealing with equipment or livestock, when we’re just driving down the road, when we’re distracted, things can happen. Clearly, our safety is at risk.”
The wrong headspace can also lead to hurrying the tasks at hand, which too can lead to accidents.
Farm safety and mental health advocate Bailey Kemery used to get upset when she’d hear, “All accidents are preventable.” In her mind, blame was being placed.
As a child, she suffered serious injury and underwent many surgeries and rehabs after being run over by a garden tractor with a rototiller attachment.
Kemery prefers to look at accident risk mitigation. Ask whether the farm and all workers are doing their best to avoid personal harm and that to families and others.
Regular, quick morning meetings to review safety are always a good idea, creating a constant reevaluation and internal reminder that our choices are responsible for those around us.
Are we in the right frame of mind to perform a potentially dangerous task?
Meeting the challenges of mental health and ag safety requires action. Here are some ways to get started:
- Shake the belief that success requires burnout-levels of work
- Share resources within communities, like farming mental health phone lines, or other available support groups
- Look for sources of free counselling for farmers
- Share challenges with your family, friends or neighbours. Thanks to those who are sharing their stories, there’s growing openness to talking about farm mental health.
“When things get too bad, or even before they get too bad, it’s important to reach out to a professional that can be of assistance in helping you find your way through,” Friesen says.
Article by: Richard Kamchen