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 reads www.ruralsupport.ca. 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.