Farm­ers strug­gle with men­tal health

Is­sue af­fect­ing more iso­lated coun­try dwellers than most peo­ple know


He wakes up each morn­ing at 5 a.m. to do chores. His teeth are clenched and they had been all night. He’s won­der­ing how he’s go­ing to make ends meet that day. Hog prices are down. And the crops haven’t re­ceived enough mois­ture to ma­ture. His farm, like most, de­pends on the use of bor­rowed money. And the bank wants a re­port.

The bur­dens placed on this farmer are too much for one per­son, too heavy and wildly un­re­al­is­tic. But he is to be stoic. He is to work hard, if not harder, in the face of near ruin.

It’s a sce­nario that has played out, in mod­i­fied forms, on farms across Canada for gen­er­a­tions.

As farm­ers, we live in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion, some more than oth­ers. One storm could wipe out an en­tire year’s worth of in­come. A se­vere drop in com­mod­ity prices could do us in. A work­place ac­ci­dent could do the same.

While farm­ers to­day may share their bur­dens with oth­ers more than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did, they still of­ten carry more than they should. At some point in our his­tory, hu­mankind made a mis­take re­gard­ing how it talks about men­tal health. And that mis­take is still re­peat­ing it­self over and over again in the ag com­mu­nity.

In June of 2016, a Univer­sity of Guelph sur­vey of more than 1,000 farm­ers in Canada re­vealed that 45 per cent of those con­tacted were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing high lev­els of stress, 58 per cent were deal­ing with anx­i­ety, and 35 per cent suf­fered from de­pres­sion, all much higher than in the pop­u­la­tion as a whole. Nu­mer­ous in­stances of ex­haus­tion and cyn­i­cism were also cited.

Farm­ers deal with large amounts of money teth­ered to fixed as­sets, and they largely do this by them­selves. This, ac­cord­ing to health pro­fes­sion­als, cre­ates con­di­tions con­ducive to high lev­els of stress and anx­i­ety.

Ag Days takes place ev­ery year in Bran­don, Man. It is a pre­mier agri­cul­ture-re­lated event fea­tur­ing thou­sands of ex­hibits and it draws farm­ers from across Western Canada. It’s now 2017, and tucked away at Ag Days in the West­man Con­course of Bran­don’s Key­stone Cen­tre a ban­ner reads­ral­sup­ Man­i­toba Farm, Ru­ral & North­ern Sup­port Ser­vices don’t have a lot of space, but they are here ex­clu­sively for farm­ers.

“When farm­ers call, it takes a while be­fore they say what their real prob­lem is,” said the coun­sel­lor at­tend­ing the booth.

I brought up the is­sue of men­tal health in ru­ral Canada to a ta­ble full of farm­ers and agron­o­mists. One said he could name five peo­ple within a five-mile ra­dius who have been dealt with men­tal health con­cerns, many of them ex­treme cases. And the oth­ers agreed that it’s an im­por­tant is­sue af­fect­ing more coun­try dwellers than most peo­ple know.

In 2012, the year my wife and I moved back to the farm, hog prices plum­meted. This wor­ried livestock pro­duc­ers. Many farm­ers lost a lot of money and their en­tire liveli­hoods. Those who could, stayed in the in­dus­try suf­fer­ing loss af­ter loss just to weather a storm they hoped would end shortly. But oth­ers couldn’t do this.

On the ex­treme end, suicides were re­ported. And then more sto­ries of hog pro­duc­ers no longer able to take the stress be­gan to sur­face. Barns full of pigs were aban­doned. Fam­i­lies were bro­ken up.

Sup­port ser­vices for farm­ers and ru­ral Cana­di­ans are im­por­tant. When it’s you, your house, a barn, and a few miles to a lis­ten­ing ear, per­spec­tive is some­times hard to find.

So, when cam­paigns such as “thank a farmer” cross your desk, take the time to do just that. You may make their day a lit­tle brighter.


Farm­ers deal with iso­la­tion and big bur­dens, which cre­ates con­di­tions con­ducive to stress and anx­i­ety, ac­cord­ing to pro­fes­sion­als.

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