There is reason for optimism in the latest report by the House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food on rural mental health.
After hearing from 58 witnesses and receiving five briefs over eight months, the committee made 10 recommendations.
The conclusions pretty much have it right, but much of it was already known. Farmers “live with many uncertainties that put them under significant pressure, such as weather events, environmental challenges, market fluctuations, debt, regulations and paperwork,” the report says.
Farmers know they can do everything right — plant the right crop, fertilize effectively, spray at the right times — and it can all be lost due to issues beyond their control.
The report noted that isolation of rural farmers intensifies these issues.
An initiative in 2005 to improve the level of mental health services in rural areas got part way there, but withered due to lack of funding. A key proposal — that stress lines be set up — has been achieved as noted on the DoMoreAg webpage.
But 14 years after that first initiative, this report noted that the stress faced by farmers remains serious, hence its recommendations.
Several focused on a need for better understanding of how policies affect producers by engaging in deeper consultation, and training of service providers.
Other recommendations include tailoring mental health initiatives to farmers’ needs, more funding for provincial mental health organizations, co-ordinating research and promoting telephone line and e-mental health services.
New this time is a recommendation to engage in public awareness campaigns to combat cyber bullying.
The need to address cyber bullying is real and urgent. Some animal rights activists don’t extend humane treatment to humans.
And it’s recommended that governments accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet through which mental health services can be delivered.
A major improvement to mental health services, which can be delivered digitally to address lack of resources and privacy of farmers, lies in improved broadband access.
The federal government plans to invest up to $6 billion to ensure 95 percent of homes and businesses have high-speed internet by 2030.
Producers’ mental health is at the heart of our food security system. It’s worth the investment.