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Maintaining mental health through tough times


May 26, 2020
By AgSafe BC

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A constant need to be resilient, compounded by social stigmas around mental health, can mean growers hesitating to seek help. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Canada’s farming community is in a mental health crisis. Even when we are not experiencing a pandemic, the rate of mental illness in agriculture is higher than those in other professions, and the situation is putting the industry at risk.

Research from the University of Guelph led by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, has confirmed that farmers face higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and a higher risk of burnout than the general population.1 Approximately 45 per cent of farmers across Canada experience high stress, while 58 per cent meet the threshold for anxiety and 35 per cent meet the standard for depression, exceeding levels in the general population.2

Canadians working in agriculture face stressors daily that challenge the stability of their mental health – unpredictable climate conditions, fluctuating markets, a changing industry, and physically demanding and exhausting work that increases the risk of experiencing a traumatic event.

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Yet, there is an expectation to be resilient – work hard, be strong. But, don’t let it show when you feel vulnerable. This is compounded by a social stigma around mental health and a lack of good community-specific support systems or services. As a result, few farmers seek help.

Take care of yourself

It’s hard to support someone else if you don’t take care of your needs first. Learn how to recognize stress in yourself. Be aware of changes in your behaviour. Are you feeling mentally fatigued or overwhelmed by all of the work you have to get done? Do you put off eating? Are you more irritable, impatient or quick to anger? Has there been an increase in use of alcohol or drugs?

It‘s important to acknowledge the presence of unusual behaviours. If you know you will be entering a stressful environment, it’s helpful to recognize your responses to stress.

Expel the negative feelings. The more you avoid addressing your mental health, the worse the situation will get. Discharge negative thoughts by talking to someone you trust, let them know that you are struggling. If you don’t feel comfortable talking, writing about how you feel helps to get the thoughts out of your head.

Implementing a self-care plan identifies the support systems and protective factors used to manage stress and maintain physical, mental and emotional health. A self-care plan should be reviewed regularly and revised as needed.3

If you are taking care of yourself, you will be in a better position to support others.

Supporting employees

It is important to reassure your workers that you are trying to keep them safe – both physically and mentally. As an employer or manager, you may be the person someone reaches out to for help.

Employees often experience the stressors similar to their employers – concerns about personal finances, the possibility of job loss or injury, and the demands of supporting a family. Understand that changes in your operation will impact your workers. Implementing a change management strategy lays out expectations and will help ease anxieties.

Employers and managers should learn to empathize and be available for those employees experiencing anxiety. Practise an open-door communication policy and let your employees know that you understand. Encourage self-care in the workplace to help ease stress.

Resources
For more, look for resources from the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health, the Canadian Red Cross’ Psychological First Aid Pocket Guide and Bounce Back’s Online Support for Mental Wellness.


1 University of Guelph, 2018;

2 A. Jones-Bitton, Ontario Veterinary College at University of Guelph;

3 https://www.redcross.ca/crc/documents/CRC-Psychological-First-Aid-Guide-2019.pdf . Red Cross also now offers a new virtual psychological first aid course: https://www.redcross.ca/training-and-certification/course-descriptions/psychological-first-aid