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Turning to community in difficult times

We thank Jean-Claude Poissant, Member of Parliament for La Prairie, Quebec, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, for his openness and candour on this topic.

We get up every morning feeling stress. Our first thought is always, "Are the animals okay? Is everything alright with them? Did anything happen during the night?”

Producers get used to a certain level of work-related stress, but the build-up can take its toll. You check out completely and lose sight of where you’re at.

That’s what happened to me. And at the same time, I got divorced. But as fate would have it, I read about Au cœur des familles agricoles, a Quebec non-profit that supports producers and their families. It had an ad asking, "Are you going through a difficult time?" with a list of stressors (finances, herd, weather, etc.). I met with a rep from the organization who knows agriculture and comes from the agricultural community. She said I needed to be confident in the people that I would choose to surround me and help me on the farm.

I also met with my bank manager. I had large amounts of money to manage and he told me not to worry, to start by looking after myself. He understood the situation and he would defer the payments if needed. Once I got back on my feet, we'd push on.

When you surround yourself with good people, it's easier to get through the tough times. When people wait too long, they can pass the point of no return and act on their thoughts. It’s important to establish ways to recognize the warning signs of distress, depression, etc., and use them to self-assess. If there is any doubt in your mind, don't drag it out. Find qualified people who know farming.

Family is very important in situations like this one. When I had my burnout, my brothers immediately came to the house and took away the firearms. They knew that people in the area had committed suicide and wanted to play it safe.

People will give us advice and support us. The best people to help are those we see all the time, such as the veterinarian and the feed supplier, people who we end up confiding in a lot.

The other important point is to think about how young people are affected. I saw my father go through times that were even more difficult than mine. Our young people have to find ways to make a living and maintain balance in their lives. Their parents still have a place and a role to play.

I’m pleased at the public profile being given to mental health issues. They’re being listened to, and dealt with, at all levels – within families, on the farm and by decision-makers in government. From my office in Ottawa, I’m committed to making mental health in agriculture priority number one.      

As told to Owen Roberts