Farmers pushed to breaking point: expert

Suicide prevention is identified as a key way to address the mental health pressures that producers are facing

High stress levels, isolation and lack of access to mental health care are combining to push agricultural producers to their breaking points, according to a mental health expert.

Testifying at the House of Commons agriculture committee last week, the president of the Mental Health Commission of Canada said a number of practical measures are required to save lives.

Suicide prevention is a key issue across the country, said Louise Bradley, and while the commission has not studied the agricultural industry directly, she believes it would be no different.

Better broadband infrastructure to provide e-mental health programs, distance mental health skills training and suicide prevention programs in rural areas would all help, she said.

“Suicide is a direct correlation between the non-existent services, and the impact of not having the right services is just terrible,” she said.

“If we can tackle the issue of suicide amongst rural communities across this country, we will do a great service to Canadians.”

The commission has a suicide prevention program called Roots of Hope that it believes could be useful nation-wide. It is a peer support program based on local needs and capability because, she said, trained professionals can’t be everywhere.

“We have to be more innovative,” she told the committee.

“In a country the size of Canada, we can’t build mental health clinics on every single corner.”

The committee heard from several witnesses who said mental health workers don’t always understand farmers, their industry and their challenges.

Bradley said trained peers, through mental health first-aid courses and other programs, can help overcome that issue.

“We have all kinds of evidence that if we made the right investment and created programs that can address the mental health of the agricultural community as well as elsewhere, that it would work, but we’re not paying attention to that evidence,” she said.

“We have to reach a crisis, and I believe that we are in a crisis situation right across the country in terms of suicide.… We are not doing anything nationally. It is happening piecemeal across the country to address this crisis situation.”

Electronic delivery of services is the future, Bradley added, but that depends on good internet access.

Andrew Campbell, an Ontario dairy farmer, said a video chat between a farmer and a professional would be private and save travel costs.

“But they need to have that connectivity,” he said.

Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie told the committee that mental health services have to be available all the time, not just during a market collapse crisis or other event.

“These interventions don’t last and support withers once the problem has subsided or the temporary funding has ended,” he said.

“We need a strategic, long-term, sustainable approach to tackling on-going mental health issues.”

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