From FCC Express
By Susan Mann
Long, stressful days spent working alone is taking its toll on farmers’ mental health.
“They (farmers) are living their distress in isolation,” says Montreal-based Amir Georges Sabongui, a PhD in clinical psychology. “They’re not reaching out for help when they need it.”
One of this year’s FCC Forum speakers, Sabongui said he’s known as Dr. Georges. He’s a motivational speaker specializing in resilience and organizational leadership solutions.
During the past several years, there’s more stress, depression and a higher risk of suicide among farmers compared to the general population and compared to historical data, he says.
Andria Jones-Bitton, of the University of Guelph’s population medicine department, agrees.
Her online, nation-wide farmers’ mental health survey, done from September 2015 to January 2016, found producers have high levels of stress, anxiety, emotional exhaustion and burnout.
The survey received more than 1,100 responses. 45 per cent of respondents said they had high stress, while 58 per cent had varying levels of anxiety and 35 per cent said they were depressed.
Forces beyond farmers’ control
Saskatchewan grain farmer Norm Hall says stress levels are high among farmers because they depend on forces beyond their control, such as the weather, for their livelihood.
“We depend somewhere between 50 and 60 per cent on Mother Nature to do our jobs, and she can be quite fickle,” he notes.
Check your dashboard
Sabongui says farmers should develop good ways to evaluate their mental health.
Green lights on their dashboard indicate they’re happy, engaged and motivated. Yellow lights signify possible trouble.
“You start chewing on negative thoughts, start isolating yourself socially and have more trouble motivating yourself,” he says.
With red lights, farmers begin having suicidal thoughts.
It’s critical for farmers who are distressed “to break the silence and reach out and get some help,” Sabongui says.
Varying levels of resources across Canada
In Ontario, Jones-Bitton is leading a group creating a mental health literacy-training program for farmers.
Mental health literacy “is about understanding the common mental health struggles people in our communities might be facing,” she says.
Sabongui says Quebec has peer-support programs where trained farmers check in on neighbours. Farm equipment and other industry representatives serving farms could do this type of checking in too.
“Take five to 10 minutes in addition to talking about all these great new products you want to sell to the farmer and just ask them how they’re doing,” Sabongui says.
A list of lines for other provinces is available on the FCC website.
Farmers encounter high stress levels at peak work times, like harvest, but it’s OK to take a step back, check in with yourself or others and reach out for help if needed.