Ranch family tackles mental health

A suicide attempt prompts Alberta producer to set up scholarship for the promotion of mental health awareness

EDMONTON — Lee Kemp flashes a smile through fluffy white whiskers, but behind the good humoured face are fresh memories of his struggles with mental health.

After a bout in hospital last spring following a suicide attempt, the Alberta farmer learned it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help or talk about matters close to the heart.

His own experience inspired his family to set up a scholarship to promote awareness of mental health.

“After everything I have learned over the last six months, I feel it is really lacking in the school system for kids to learn the tools to cope with their mental well-being,” he said during a break from showing cattle at Farmfair International in Edmonton.

He hopes that if young people learn coping skills early in life, they will have the ability to get support from family and friends when the going gets tough.

The idea around the program came after hearing a speech about mental health during the young speakers competition at the Calgary Stampede.

“You have kids like that that are so inspiring and can really make a difference, so my wife and I started talking about how maybe we could do something.”

The first step is to raffle a steer to raise $20,000 to start a scholarship. Working with the Cody Sibbald Classic, Summer Synergy and hopefully the Calgary Stampede, Lee and his wife, Debbie, intend to present $1,000 scholarships and silver belt buckles at these events. The qualifiers must show at these events and submit a 500 word essay or story to a panel of three judges who will select the winners.

The essays remain confidential, and Kemp hopes they may be an outlet for young people facing their own struggles.

The Kemp Family Scholarship Fund is being promoted through word of mouth and Facebook.

They have already sold tickets across Canada that were often accompanied by heartfelt letters about personal experiences.

Lee and Debbie and their children, Hannah and Seth, live on a fourth generation farm near Innisfail, Alta., working with two brothers and their father.

The farm, which was established in 1943, comprises about 160 cows, 2,500 acres of cropland and 300 acres of hay. There can be a lot of pressure on a farm with weather disasters, low cattle and grain prices and family disagreements.

All the family lives on the home quarter and the parents are on the next quarter.

“We all want the farm to grow. Grandpa did it, Dad did it and it is our job to make sure it keeps going and keeps growing,” he said.

The time has come on this farm to start talking about a succession plan. Lee’s experiences with mental health have helped pave a path to get parents, three brothers, three wives and seven grandchildren talking. It has not been easy.

“If you want this to happen properly, all cards have to be on table. We need to do this right,” he said.

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