Stressed farmers encouraged to ask for help

Alberta producer who went public with his struggles finds himself in demand with farmers dealing with similar issues

The phone keeps ringing. Ever since Sean Stanford has spoken openly about his struggles with farm-related stress and anxiety, the calls from farmers with similar issues have been steady.

Stanford, 34, is a heavy duty mechanic who also farms with his family near Magrath, Alta. Although he is willing to talk with other farmers about their challenges, it has proven a time-consuming endeavour.

Yet the number of queries doesn’t surprise him.

“It doesn’t necessarily worry me because I know that it’s out there,” he said about farmer stress and other challenges.

“People are suffering and having issues. I like it that they’re actually coming out and talking about it, even if they do reach out to me. It is a lot for me to try to bear and handle but I can point them in the direction that they can find some resources to help deal with their problems.”

His first suggestion is that people seek advice from their family doctor and then find a therapist who can help.

“Talking to anybody is better than talking to nobody. That’s a huge part of it.”

The doctor and therapist route is the one Stanford followed once he decided to seek help.

Sean Stanford, Alberta farmer. | Barb Glen photo

“I was depressed and really anxious. I’ve still got a lot of anxiety. Not so much depression anymore. This is the worst time of year, so I think I’m over the hump now, actually, which is kind of a big relief for me because most winters I get really depressed. Just bummed out. Cabin fever, and money is tight.”

Research from the University of Guelph, undertaken by Dr. Andrea Jones-Bitton, has shown the level of stress is high among Canadian farmers. A survey of more than 1,100 of them revealed that 45 percent had high stress and another 58 percent reported anxiety.

Stanford is getting calls from farmers all over the country.

“Some people have said, ‘we have been suicidal’. That’s really scary to hear. A lot of people are just saying they’re stressed out or they’ve had two or three bad years in a row, especially around here with the droughts, and some people are worried about their farms going bankrupt.

“There’s just a lot people stressed out about the ag industry in general right now. It’s all kinds of different stories but everybody’s got the same kind of stress, it seems like. It’s a lot to do with financial stress. That’s the biggest problem.”

Farmers have said they are discouraged or prevented from seeking help over fears it shows weakness, contravenes the rural image of the stoic, tough farmer, or find it hard to get help in under-served rural areas.

However, the stigma associated with mental health issues does seem to be eroding, Stanford said.

“It’s totally starting to melt away. It has been for the last couple years, slowly, but it seems like it’s picking up pace. It’s starting to become more mainstream. There’s a lot of people talking about it now, which is huge.”

The Do More Ag initiative has been a huge help in that direction, Stanford added. He has been a speaker at some of the organization’s events and applauds its mental health training courses now being offered in rural areas.

”A lot of specialists or therapists have no idea what the struggles of agriculture are, so they can relate on general terms,” he said.

Who to call

  • Alberta: Mental Health Hotline — 877-303-2642
  • Saskatchewan: Farm Stress Line — 800-667-4442
  • Manitoba: Rural Support Services — 866-367-3276
  • Do More Ag: www.domore.ag

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