Farmers are at the mercy of weather, pests and disease and fluctuating commodity prices. The lack of control and unpredictability can cause mental health problems.

Anxious, depressed farmers need help: foundation

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A survey of more than 1,100 Canadian farmers found that 45 per cent had high stress, 58 per cent were classified with varying levels of anxiety and 35 per cent with depression. That’s two to four times higher than farmers studied in the United Kingdom and Norway, said the study’s author Prof. Andria Jones-Bitton of Western University.

Megz Reynolds (left) told CBC she found it hard to admit she needed support after hail destroyed all of her family’s crops two years ago. (CBC)

Farmers worry about stigma

The survey also showed 40 per cent of respondents would feel uneasy about getting professional help “because of what people might think.”

“I think there is an image and culture in agriculture where you’re expected to be rough and tough, and you don’t necessarily need to ask for help. And I think that’s especially true when it comes to mental health,” says Himanshu Singh a co-founder of Do More Agriculture Foundation.

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The Do More Agriculture Foundation was founded by (left to right) Himanshu Singh, Lesley Kelly, Kim Keller and (not in photo) Kirk Muyres.

Foundation offers help

This new foundation was created to raise awareness about mental health problems in agriculture, to break the stigma about it, and to build a community of support and resources for those who are affected.

Singh says there are many factors contributing to the stress on farmers: “There’s a lot of factors that aren’t in the control of the producers year in, year out—things like weather… like disease that can affect our crops, or even commodity prices. All of these things can compound and …have a real effect on the mental well-being of a producer.”

Distances big, but services available

Canada is a very big country with great distances between some of the farms. And while mental health services may be far away there are other services that are easier to access for farmers working in remote locations. The province of Saskatchewan has the Farm Stress Line which is a 24-hour-a-day telephone line offering counselling, support, information and referral services.

Several other provinces offer similar telephone help lines as well as online services. The foundation seeks to involve industry since it is a front-line service and could be first to recognize a producer’s distress. Singh says industry needs to understand the problem and could help by training employees to recognize signs of distress and to refer farmers to services.

‘What other areas are as important?’

Singh is at a loss to express how important he feels this is: “It’s hard for me to understand and articulate what other areas are as important as taking care of all producers and the mental well-being of producers—people that are behind our agriculture industry, people who are growing the food that we all consume.”

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