4-H initiative tackles youth mental health

Healthy Living Initiative focuses on creating tools and resources to support young people with mental health challenges

4-H Canada and several partners used the backdrop of Canada’s largest livestock show to announce a new program targeted at youth mental health.

The two-year initiative will focus on supporting the emotional and physical health of rural young people beginning next spring.

Chief executive officer Shannon Benner said the first year of the Healthy Living Initiative will focus on creating tools and resources to support young people facing mental health challenges and training 4-H leaders. The second year will focus on physical health, nutrition and well-being of members.

“It’s very important that we teach adults and the adults that work in our 4-H program how to recognize kids in distress and where to direct them,” Benner said at a Canadian Western Agribition news conference in Regina.

Farm Credit Canada is contributing $50,000 to the program.

CEO Mike Hoffort said the agricultural sector is dynamic and growing but things don’t always go as expected.

“Problems become compounded by exhaustion and not always having access to local support resources that are necessary,” he said.

FCC earlier this year provided $50,000 to the DoMoreAg Foundation for 12 mental health workshops.

“Over 100 communities applied to host those workshops and to me that demonstrates the need among rural communities for additional support,” he said.

FCC has rolled out public service announcements and published Rooted in Strength, which was to appear in farm mailboxes late last month.

UFA Co-operative CEO Carol Kitchen said identifying issues early through programs like the 4-H initiative is critical.

“We must as an industry do better,” she said.

Kitchen said problems such as this fall’s late harvest affect everyone.

“I think everybody recognizes when you participate in this industry regardless of what segment you’re in that there’s a lot of uncertainty and uncertainty creates stress and we see that showing up,” she said.

Similarly, Cargill spokesperson Connie Tamoto said the company sees the stress across its businesses.

“We hear from our sales teams and our folks out in the field. We hear it from our executive,” she said.

UFA, Cargill and Corteva Agriscience are each contributing $40,000 over the two years.

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said farmers appreciate the support that industry is providing.

“Stress, mental health and depression affect everyone but farmers have extra concerns,” he said. “Their family, their homes, their businesses are all tied together.”

Bonnett said there is lots of talk about growing the industry and seeking more investment but the focus should be on the people.

“The only thing that’s going to really grow the agricultural industry is the people that are in it. And if we don’t invest in our people we can’t take advantage of the full opportunity that’s out there.”

He said helping children will help entire families get through rough patches and deal with mental health issues.

Meanwhile, 4-H Canada and Canadian National Railway announced the renewal of a leadership excellence program.

The railway funds four-year scholarships worth $5,000 each year to recipients of the Leadership Excellence Awards of Distinction for senior 4-H members.

Recipients are also matched with mentors.

The program was first announced at Agribition three years ago and has been renewed for four years.

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