If it seems dark, farmers need help to see light

It’s the darkest and bleakest time of the year, and that can wear down the toughest people’s defences.

It’s actually less dark right now than usual for this time of year, because there’s so much snow everywhere across the Prairies, but that snow also comes with much colder conditions than usual, so it doesn’t seem any better.

Farm input bills are coming due. Maybe this year’s harvest didn’t turn out so well. The challenges for next season might seem large, even overwhelming. Winter looms.

I’m thinking about this because yesterday at Grain World I and hundreds of farmers and agriculture industry people saw Michael Landsberg give a compelling speech, presentation and rally about mental health and the importance of facing up to our own limitations, about the need for us to accept when we need help, and the need to break the stigma about accepting others’ or our own mental health vulnerabilities.

Landsberg is a famous sports journalist, so a lot of people are willing to listen to what he says. He’s taking that fame and doing a lot of good with it, travelling the country to urge more attention to mental health, using his own story of dealing with crippling anxiety and depression as a way of breaking the taboos around this often ignored subject.

Farmers are particularly vulnerable to the damage that depression and anxiety can cause. They are generally self-reliant people who pride themselves on being able to face up to challenges without complaining, who often don’t like sharing their feelings, and who live in inherently isolated conditions. If depression or anxiety begin to overwhelm them, they can easily retreat further into isolation and that can lead to a spiralling of problems, and sometimes tragedy, as the individual becomes unable to cope with the demands of life.

I keep an old white board in my office. The words on it are more than a decade old. On one corner of it are the words “Guy who starved animals.” That was my crass way of recording a story idea about a phenomenon I had noted with puzzlement, one that cropped up about once a year. A farmer somewhere on the Prairies would be found to have allowed dozens or hundreds of animals to starve or become so badly neglected that they would need to be put down. Generally the farmer was denounced and charged with cruelty to animals. The phenomenon never made sense to me, because why would a guy left his property, his business, his calling and his status in the community disintegrate right in front of his eyes?

When I finally dug into it in 2004-05 I discovered a horrifying reality: rather than being evil animal-abusers, these men (and all the examples I could find were male) were almost certainly dealing with profound depression and were simply unable to get out and take care of their animals and farms. They were hiding this depression, but when somebody is responsible for hundreds of animals or thousands of acres, signs of problems can be seen. Unfortunately, many people respond to these situations by being morally judgemental, rather than being wise enough to spot that something is likely to be profoundly wrong with that farmer, and that he might need help.

I won’t describe the stories I wrote then, but here is a link if you’re interested in going deeper into the topic of farmer depression: Connecting the dots

I’m writing this post because you might know a farmer or somebody in agriculture who might be in situation of depression or crippling anxiety, they might be trying to hide it, but you might be able to reach out and help them. It’s worth thinking about and you could do a lot of good if you’re able to help a friend or relative in a tough situation. That was one of Landsberg’s big points yesterday. Little acts of connection and communication can have a big affect on a person at the end of their tether. Here is a link to Landsberg’s Sick Not Weak website, which has lots of great advice and resources.

The stories I wrote back in 2005 stay with me, and talks like Landsberg’s bring up a lot of feelings for me, because I’ve been in the situation of having a friend dealing with depression and not being able to deal with it. He didn’t know how to deal with it and committed suicide. I didn’t know how to even spot that he was having problems and wondered for 20 years what the heck happened and why I had no sense that anything was up.

Working on those stories educated me about depression and its signs, and I encourage you to get educated, because you might have a friend out there who needs help and you just aren’t seeing it.

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  • Harold

    Depression is not a mental disorder and it is only called a mental disorder by those who cannot mentally themselves understand it – or the insidious who are trying to gain a monetary profit from it. To find the meaning of depression – is to first define the meaning of its opposite – which is expression. What is expression exactly – is the only silence that anyone suffers from. Neither depression or expression are a mental disorder, they are only mere words that describe opposites. Oppression arbitrarily removes one’s ability to express one’s self and depression is the only result. From express you have to be pressed and the press – is oppress – and the oppress – creates the depress – and the constant state of the oppress – is the state of the depression. That depression you feel reveals the fact that the oppression exists. To know that there is oppression is to be depressed – it expresses a truth – and that is not a mental disorder – it is in fact a clear mind. Doping that mind does not change a thing and allows the oppression and oppressor a license to exist. The biggest cancer in society is a Walt Disney’s coined phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say- then don’t say anything at all”. How does this formed stupidity and belief prevent suicide; by the victim telling you all of the worlds niceties? If the victim knew them – wouldn’t the victim be doing them? If you were born into this world to express yourself and are arbitrarily denied your expression – your life is over – and you will end it – and will not ask for anyone’s permission to do so. A man, who has lost his legs, has lost some of his ability to fully express himself and therefore is depressed. The oppression, or oppressive force, is the arbitrary loss of his legs (didn’t want it) and is coupled with the loss of the “games” that he participated in to express himself – are now gone. The expression and oppression combined describe the depression of the man who has lost his legs. Is that depression a mental disorder that requires a doping drug and a illusion, or does the depression describe a true reality? The relief from depression – is acceptance – or artificial legs (removing barriers preventing self expression) or doping drugs of an artificial and illusionary well being. (insidious)
    Like Mr. Landsberg has said, depression is not your weakness, arbitrary oppression to your expression is -.and the help he describes is in the removal of that oppressive force. What Mr. Landsberg is further talking about is how his expression of his depression seemed to lift his spirits up, but the lifting up is the result of one’s own nature when in expressing ones-self – they are not arbitrarily told to shut up by an oppressive crowd. He goes on to suggest that helping the depressed is to get the depressed to express. That action creates a condition wherein the victim is not told to shut up. The victim feels good only temporally because the “talking action” by itself does not remove any barriers, only a physical removal does, so they suffer in relapse. The victim will inherently remain silent if you are recognized as the oppressor or recognized as someone who cannot remove any barriers for them, so well intended friends and family are not always the relief for the victims; only the temporary, and why suicides remain unexpected. The farmer expresses himself by his crops and what he has achieved – but hail in an arbitrary oppression takes the expression away – except that crop insurance can prevent some of his depression. If the farmer has no crop insurance and is now depressed, is he suffering from a mental disorder or a weather disorder? How will friends help him recover from his depression? Their ears? When a farmer is fully oppressed upon and there is no end in sight – that farmer has two options. Suicide or leaving the farm and both to the victim are seen as the windows out. The removal of the oppressor eliminates the other two choices.
    There is an astonishing silence about expression and oppression as though oppression and expression does not exist; only depression does. How handy it is for the oppressors that they are never known or discovered. When expression and oppression are fully known, depression will look after itself. What exactly is expression in all of its forms and what is oppression in all of its forms – and to this – all that depresses known. Today’s depression talks are like aiming an arrow at an invisible target. Depression is everywhere because we have oppression everywhere, and contrary to the opinion of the Author, Oppression does not care who it champions or who is depressed whereby farmers are the greatest victims. Being forced to dismiss yourself (expression) and to be ordered to sit down, shut up, and obey authority – is oppression – and effects everyone the same – when they are powerless to do otherwise and regardless of where anyone has positioned themselves in life. Depression. If one wants to talk about depression they should first know what expression and oppression is exactly, and in no uncertain terms.


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