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Know someone struggling with stress? Steps for a mental health check-in

3.5 min read

A recent study from the University of Guelph found that female farmers bore the brunt of the mental health impact of the pandemic.

The study of 1,167 farmers found that female farmers were twice as likely as male farmers to report seeking mental health or substance use support.

“It was regrettable but not surprising, especially given the pandemic, to see that mental health statistics were still a concern in Canadian farmers,” says Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College and a member of the study team. “We found the differences by gender particularly striking.” *

Mental health challenges are common among both men and women in agriculture.

The survey included questions about anxiety, depression, perceived stress, burnout, alcohol use, resilience and questions regarding participants’ perceived changes in these outcomes during the pandemic.

Kim Keller, the founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, says the survey results match what she’s heard anecdotally from female farmers – that many carried most of their families’ lockdown childcare/homeschooling alongside their regular work and family roles.

Keller adds that the pandemic is just one of many stress factors for farmers where mental health challenges are common among both men and women in agriculture.

Here are five important steps to take if you or someone you know is struggling under unmanageable stress, constant worry, dark thoughts or other mental health challenges:

1. Watch for warning signs

Megz Reynolds, executive director of the Do More Ag Foundation, left farming partly because of its impact on her and her family’s mental health. She says unhealthy feelings and behaviours can be difficult to identify in ourselves and others. Coping behaviours like self-medicating through alcohol can sneak in, and it can be common to normalize what should be flagged.

“There’s farmer Megz: she's yelling at a family member because they did something wrong when they were trying to be helpful; she's having trouble sleeping; she can't remember what she did yesterday; she's having trouble focusing,” Reynolds says.

Rather than family and friends saying, “that’s just how she is,” instead, take it as a sign that something may be going on with her and have a conversation to see if she's OK.

2. Reach out: help exists

The Do More Agriculture Foundation offers a comprehensive, easily searchable list of regional, provincial and national resources and mental health supports.

And even though certain resources may say crisis in the title, don't wait until a crisis to call.

“Getting support doesn’t have to be a last-ditch effort. Take steps to find help early,” Keller says.

3. Open the conversation

It can be difficult to bring up conversations about mental health when you’re suffering or worried about someone else. However, a single conversation can decrease the isolation felt when experiencing a mental health challenge and finding help.

Not sure how to approach a conversation? Keller suggests opening with this: Hey, I just noticed that you're not yourself. Is everything OK?

“That way, the person has the chance to share with you and the option not to. And they also know that the conversation is open for a later date,” Keller says.

4. Support, don’t fix

Keller says there are two key points to remember if someone shares that they are struggling.

“First, I thank them for telling and trusting me. Then I always direct to professional resources,” she says.

Most of us are not trained mental health professionals. We need to help that person feel safe and let them know that what they've shared with us is in trust and that we care about them. Then we need to help them find the professional resources they need.

Begin with the articles and other mental health resources on the FCC website. If the need for help is more urgent, share this information, or reach out yourself to help your friend or family member.

5. Advocate for more support

Agriculture has made big steps towards improving supports for farmers. However, more work lies ahead.

“Mental health awareness in agriculture has increased in recent years, yet we must extend these efforts to provide tangible supports to farmers,” says Jones-Bitton. “Education/training, research, mental health and well-being advocacy, government and industry support in reducing stressors (where possible), and gender-specific supports and programs would go a long way.”

* Survey participants were only required to consent to the survey, making all other questions optional. Based on questions that were answered, a minimum of 366 identified themselves as females and 565 participants identified themselves as males.

Article by: Madeleine Baerg

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