The high cost of stress, iso­la­tion down on the farm

Men­tal ill­ness af­flicts many in job with de­mand­ing du­ties, writes.

Calgary Herald - - FP CALGARY - Toban Dyck

I drove my­self to the hos­pi­tals ex­hibit­ing heart-at­tack symp­toms and left with none. This has hap­pened twice. And both times I left the ur­gent care with a clean bill of health.

The at­tend­ing physi­cian would sen­si­tively side­step to­ward what to him was the ob­vi­ous con­clu­sion: anx­i­ety.

“Do you have a his­tory of anx­i­ety?” he would ask. “Have you ever ex­pe­ri­enced panic at­tacks?”

It never oc­curred to me that phys­i­cal symp­toms as real and spe­cific as chest pain could stem from anx­i­ety, a state of be­ing that seems too neb­u­lous and ethe­real to have any phys­i­o­log­i­cal con­nec­tion. Nor did I con­sider my­self anx­ious.

Adapt­ing to a sched­ule that has be­come in­creas­ingly busy and de­mand­ing has been a chal­lenge. It re­quires that I pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to my men­tal health, en­sur­ing that I rou­tinely bal­ance the things that de­plete me with ac­tiv­i­ties that recharge.

Cana­dian farm­ers are by and large fa­mil­iar with weath­er­ing storms. It’s an as­sumed clause in the job de­scrip­tion. We do it all the time. In south­ern Man­i­toba, right now, it’s cold and windy and there’s enough snow built-up that I’m not sure you’d make it down my drive­way with a twowheel-drive ve­hi­cle. This is not un­com­mon for Jan­uary.

In white­out bliz­zard con­di­tions my wife and I feel alone on our farm. But that’s more of an ob­ser­va­tion than a fear. We have the tools and ma­chin­ery to sur­vive. And, if those all fail, we have neigh­bours who would en­sure our safety.

Things change, how­ever, when the things that need deal­ing with are in our heads. We don’t feel as con­fi­dent call­ing a neigh­bour for help. The steps needed in or­der to sur­vive the storm are not as clear.

Many farm­ers spend their days alone. They work alone. They trou­bleshoot alone. And they shoul­der the farm’s prob­lems alone. And, while any farmer would be able to tell you ex­actly where to pur­chase a new cul­ti­va­tor shovel, they may not know where to go for help deal­ing with the nag­ging and in­tru­sive thought that their farm isn’t go­ing to make it an­other year. Or, worse yet, that they aren’t go­ing to make it an­other year.

Some farms are miles or hours from the near­est com­mu­nity. And some farms have poor or nonex­is­tent cell­phone cov­er­age. Iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness are phys­i­cal re­al­i­ties that be­come ex­po­nen­tially more dan­ger­ous when they be­come men­tal re­al­i­ties, as well.

Strength. En­durance. Sur­vival. Per­se­ver­ance. These are the words through which many farm­ers judge them­selves. To be known in con­nec­tion to any of them is to have built a solid legacy. To have found the last grow­ing sea­son stress­ful, men­tally, is tan­ta­mount to say­ing you’re a lesser farmer.

My wife and I own slightly less than 100 acres of land. It’s not much, by most Cana­dian farm­ing met­rics. But the pay­ments are high. And the stress as­so­ci­ated with our new and grow­ing op­er­a­tion is tied to manag­ing the cash-flow de­mands we have now with an eye for what those de­mands are go­ing to look like as we pur­chase more acres.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is cur­rently tak­ing a deep look into the is­sue of men­tal health among farm­ers. They have opened them­selves to re­ceive per­sonal anec­dotes from pro­duc­ers across Canada. Ac­cord­ing to iPol­i­tics, many farm­ers re­port be­ing un­der ex­treme pres­sure and some have con­tem­plated sui­cide due to stress and iso­la­tion.

The full re­port is ex­pected to be re­leased this year.

In Novem­ber, Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Lawrence Ma­cAulay ac­knowl­edged the men­tal-health con­cerns that are specif­i­cally plagu­ing the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try and an­nounced a cam­paign that will see ag-lender Farm Credit Canada team up with 4-H Canada to pro­vide a sup­port net­work for youth.

On Jan. 7, On­tario’s Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Ernie Harde­man, raised his voice on the mat­ter, an­nounc­ing a pub­lic aware­ness cam­paign aimed at shed­ding light on the men­tal-health chal­lenges that face farm­ers.

“Farm­ing can be a tough busi­ness, one that takes a toll on farm­ers and their fam­i­lies,” he said, in a press re­lease. “We want to ad­dress the stigma that still sur­round men­tal health and help peo­ple find the re­sources that can make a dif­fer­ence.”

The stig­mas are not go­ing away any time soon. Farm­ers are cul­tur­ally known to be hearty and cal­lous to­ward things as seem­ingly petty as in­se­cu­rity and neg­a­tive thoughts.

The next time you’re driv­ing out­side of the city and you see just one yard amid thou­sands of acres of un­oc­cu­pied land, know that as lonely as that farm looks is as lonely as some farm­ers feel.

It’s Jan­uary. Tra­di­tion­ally, this month is a dark one, men­tally. Take ex­tra care out there. I’m learn­ing to deal with my anx­i­ety. It’s not easy.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cana­dian pop star Justin Bieber and his wife, model Hailey Bald­win, at­tend a Leafs game in Toronto in Novem­ber. Lawyers say there are still op­tions for cou­ples like Bieber and Bald­win, who didn’t sign a pre-nup­tial agree­ment — a post-nup can be signed be­fore or after a wed­ding that can be a “se­cu­rity blan­ket” or help safe­guard their wealth.

GETTY IMAGES/IS­TOCK­PHOTO

Farm­ers may not know where to get help for their men­tal health.

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