A little mental health First Aid for Farmers

By Tim Kalinowski


While agriculture is a stressful occupation at the best of times, difficult years like many southern Alberta and Saskatchewan farmers faced in 2018 tend to amplify underlying mental health concerns, says Kim Keller, co-founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation which focuses on creating greater mental health awareness in the agriculture industry.

“The pressures producers experience on a daily basis when it comes to their operations and their industry definitely can have a strong effect on their overall mental well-being,” she states. “Like in 2018, when people are experiencing a high level of stress over a prolonged period of time it becomes even more important that we are taking care of our mental health, and taking the time to care of ourselves to stay healthy.”

Keller says there is generally no one stresser you can point to which impacts farmers’ mental health, but rather it is usually a compound of various stressers creating an overall negative mental health situation.

“Isolation is a huge issue we talk about and have to address,” she explains. “Other areas which have come to our attention over the last year are really around operational stress, weather, markets and even public policy through legislation coming down which might affect some aspects of your operation.

“But then there is also things like succession planning, or family dynamics.

“As we all know in agriculture, family isn’t just family,” she adds. “They are also your boss, your co-workers, your employees— there are a lot of different dynamics when you are looking at a farm and what a producer can experience, and some of the stressers they might have in their lives.”

This year Do More Ag will be offering 12 “Mental Health First Aid” sessions in 12 different agricultural communities. Keller says it is a good start, but also illustrates how much more agriculture as an industry needs to do to address mental health concerns.

“Mental Health First Aid is a two-day course where the focus really is on mental health in the agricultural community,” explains Keller. “So signs and symptoms that show that someone needs mental health support, and what to do to give that mental health support. And the other part of it is being able to diagnose yourself, and to help you understand what you might be experiencing.

“It was a pilot project where we were able to fund 12 communities to receive Mental Health First Aid training for no cost,” she adds. “We had 12 spots, and we received over 100 applications from communities across Canada.”

Despite the mental health mountain that still needs to be climbed in Canadian agriculture, Keller says there are also positive signs at Do More Ag’s first year anniversary mark that its message is getting through.

“In 2017 when we started planning on developing our Foundation, and what it would look like, mental health wasn’t really a conversation many in agriculture were having,” Keller recalls. “When you looked at agendas for farm shows, for instance, mental health wasn’t on the agenda.

“Fast forward a year, and I don’t believe there is a farm show, conference or meeting that doesn’t have mental health on the agenda,” she says.

“And you look at what is happening at the federal level with the Standing Committee on Farmer Mental Health— that was incredible that we have even caught the attention of federal politics.

“They are realizing this is something we cannot ignore any longer.”

Keller says if she can leave one message with producers as they get set to enter another crop year in 2019, it would be: Take care of yourself and those around you. And seek help if you need it.

“One thing I leave everyone with is that no one is alone in their situation or in this industry, whether they realize it or not,” Keller states. “They have people rooting for them.”

For information on mental health resources available to the agriculture industry and helpful tips for overall mental health visit www.domore.ag.