Farmers are working in a high stress profession, which always brings with it a huge dose of insecurity as weather and markets play havoc with their livelihoods. Bills pile up, and you hope once you get your calves or crop in for sale, you might be able to just keep your nose above water for a few months.
And then it starts all over again.
This kind of cycle takes its toll on the emotional well-being and mental health of producers, which, in more severe cases, can lead to a breakdown without proper treatment.
The Do More Agriculture Foundation, which just held its formal launch at the recent 2018 FarmTech Conference in Edmonton, aims to do something about this pressing problem in the agricultural community by de-stigmatizing the conversation around mental health.
“Our mission is to be a champion for the mental well-being of all Canadian producers,” says Do More Ag co-founder Kim Keller. “We are really striving to change the culture of agriculture where all producers are empowered, supported and encouraged to take care of their mental well-being.”
The scope of the problem cannot be understated, says Keller.
“The University of Guelph did a recent study where they did a survey across Canada Jan. 2015 to Sept. 2016, and they actually found some pretty alarming numbers. Thirty-five per cent of farmers meet the criteria for a depression classification. Fifty-eight per cent of farmers meet the classification for an anxiety classification. And 45 per cent of farmers report having high stress.”
Adding to the mental health burden of farmers is a deep reluctance to talk about it when they are having problems. Citing the “real men don’t cry” tough-guy culture many farmers grow up in, Keller said more needs to be done to reach out and show it is okay to seek help when needed.
“There is a reluctance on behalf of farmers to talk about mental health issues either publicly or privately,” she stated. “Often a farmer won’t even discuss these issues with their own spouse.
“If we can really start to break down that stigma and cultural barrier, I think we can get a long ways.
“We really need to think about it in terms of an investment in our business. If you look at sports teams they utilize sports psychologists to benefit that team’s performance, for instance.
“How can we get to a place where a farm invest in its mental health to benefit the bottom line for that business?”
Keller says Do More Ag has two main focuses in the short run: Fostering greater awareness of mental health in the agriculture community, and creating a respectful and nurturing community of support where farmers can come to talk about their problems or anxieties without judgment in an open way.
“If we can save one life, or help one person who has been struggling— if we can maybe help them understand why they are behaving a certain way so they can get help that changes their life— then everything we are doing will be worth it,” says Keller.