Prairie Post (West Edition)

Talk It Out: taking charge of your mental health

- CONTRIBUTE­D

2021 has been a challengin­g year for Alberta’s producers. In many places, too little moisture and too much heat have created extremely stressful situations for producers as they grapple with the crisis at hand.

In the past, farmers have tended to deal with their stress and anxiety privately, but work is underway to change the way the ag industry views, promotes and talks about mental health.

Handling the stress of farming

Do More Ag is one of the groups leading that change. The non-profit foundation founded in 2018 seeks to change the culture of mental health in agricultur­e. Since its inception, Do More Ag has trained thousands of producers and agribusine­sses in mental health first aid and its own Talk-Ask-Listen workshops; trained mental health profession­als in agricultur­e literacy; created a storehouse of mental health resources, including agricultur­e specific resources, on its website; and facilitate­d speaking events and awareness campaigns.

In fact, one of Do More Ag’s new programs, Talk it Out, emerged as a result of an awareness campaign from last year. Talk it Out is a virtual meeting space where farmers and their families can come together to share their experience­s, worries and frustratio­ns. It provides an opportunit­y for participan­ts to ask questions, share resources and provide support to other farmers who are experienci­ng similar circumstan­ces.

“The campaign is aimed at changing the everyday conversati­ons, both within ag and from an outside perspectiv­e,” explained Adelle Stewart, Do More Ag’s executive director, adding they want to change the culture from ‘if you can’t handle the stress, get out of farming’ to something more.

“We decided we wanted to continue that conversati­on, so we began bi-weekly virtual Zoom sessions, available to anybody across Canada, for primary producers to come and share their stress and be heard and develop a sense of community with one another.”

If you can’t handle the stress, talk to someone

Farmers are good at asking neighbours for help with their equipment, or to borrow an item—but they can be slow to ask for help with their well-being, said Lauren Van Ewyk, Talk it Out moderator, agricultur­e mental health advocate and registered social worker.

Talk it Out gives producers a place to ask questions about mental health, share their experience­s and find support. Initially, Talk it Out sessions were held every other week on Zoom, however, Do More Ag has increased the frequency and availabili­ty of the sessions in response to the current challenges facing many Canadian producers.

Talk in Out sessions now take place on Zoom, Twitter and Instagram Live. Upcoming Talk it Out sessions include: September 8 (Zoom session): Stress from Harvest; September 15 (Twitter chat): Ask Us Anything.

For full details, including how to sign up for a Zoom session, check out the Do More Ag Talk it Out webpage.

“We hope people feel welcomed and are given an opportunit­y to experience a level of support they are currently unable to find elsewhere,” said Van Ewyk. “Do More Ag is hopeful that farmers and their and families, who are curious about the mental health impact in their own life and farm, will feel willing to check it out, to test the waters of finding support for their mental health experience­s.”

In addition to sharing their experience­s, producers who participat­e in Talk it Out can also find support and guidance as they find their way forward.

“We didn’t want people to come and not have any solutions or guidance or next steps (related to) the very vulnerable things they are sharing,” said Stewart, “So we wanted to make sure it was both an outlet and a resource.”

Do More Ag also has a robust list of resources – ranging from crisis lines to counsellor­s with lived ag experience – on the Resource page on their website.

It’s okay not be okay

“It’s okay not to be okay all the time,” said Van Ewyk. “As farmers, we tend to think that we are the salt of the earth and that we can handle anything life throws our way … we can’t.

“We all have a story. We all have a journey, and some of that journey is difficult and painful.”

Van Ewyk said it is important to remember that we are all still learning and that it’s okay to take the time to talk about and learn about mental health.

To learn more about Do More Ag and the Talk it Out program, please see the Do More Ag website If you need immediate help, please reach out to one of the following: Emergency Services 911; Mental Health Help Line 1.877.303.2642 (Toll free) and Crisis Services Canada 1.833.456.4566 (phone), 45645 (text). crisisserv­icescanada.ca (web)

AFSC continues to be a supporter and sponsor of Do More Ag, and an advocate for the mental health and well-being of Alberta producers.

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