The independent spirit that helps farmers cope with working in isolation can also make it more difficult to ask for help
The most important components of a farming operation are its people.
“In agriculture, we always hear about the latest advances in technology and innovation, and we forgot about our people,” said Lesley Kelly, co-founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, an organization founded to deal with mental health issues facing farmers.
“We should’ve been talking about this years ago.”
Farmers face challenges that go along with the choice to live a rural life.
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“The issue is more surrounding the sheer nature of this lifestyle,” said Adelle Stewart, executive director of Do More Ag. “The unpredictability, volatility, and uniqueness of the sector; to remain in this space, a certain level of heightened resiliency needs to be part of the make-up of the producers. The toughness of that shell is what I believe can contribute to the stigma and reluctance to seek help sometimes.”
This message is echoed by Katey Darr, a Shoal Lake, Man., native who now lives near Tantallon, Sask. Diagnosed with severe childhood depression at a young age, she is no stranger to mental illness.
“As people are becoming more aware that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, they are more open to understanding these issues and how they can affect anyone. The typical mentality is that farmers are supposed to be tough, strong and unbreakable, so in a way it created a barrier and in turn no one wanted to open up (or didn’t know how to bring it up) when they were having a tough time.
“I think a lot of people were made to think that you couldn’t admit that you weren’t OK, that you just had to get over it and keep going.”
She is thankful that she was diagnosed with her mental illness at a young age because she developed an awareness that has carried through to her adult life. It has taught her to deal with her symptoms early before they become a much larger problem.
Kim Hyndman-Moffat, a counsellor with the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services toll-free phone line, believes the stigma surrounding mental health is lessening, although there is still a long way to go.
A rural resident herself and former farm partner, she has experienced first-hand the many challenges of maintaining a viable farming operation. She, as well as her colleagues, have noticed a shift in producers’ willingness to open up with someone that they can trust and has an understanding as to the issues facing farmers.
“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve seen a lot more discussion and a lot of changes,” said Hyndman-Moffat. “It’s like a big ship turning around; it is slowly happening but it’s slow going. I feel more hopeful now than any other time that the attitudes towards reaching out for help are changing.”
Added Stewart: “Farmers are reaching out more and more which is very positive.”
Darr also feels that times are changing for the better; that awareness and education around mental health challenges facing farmers are creating more conversation.
“When one person speaks up, others listen and they begin to share their story, in a way creating a movement,” she said. “I am a strong believer that awareness around mental health is creating a safe place for those suffering to speak up, no matter their gender.”
This is why Darr has chosen to share her experience.
“Mental health should be something that is a regular conversation piece, something that everyone can talk about openly. You never know if your story can inspire someone else to find help or even for them to know that they’re not alone in how they may be feeling.”