Farmers offered mental health help

Cynthia Beck, a master’s student in clinical psychology at the University of Regina, is offering a course this summer that incorporates mental health resources for people in the agriculture sector. She lives on a farm near Milestone, Sask. | U of R/Trevor Hopkin photo

The eight-week Wellbeing Course is offered through the University of Regina’s Online Therapy Unit and tailored for ag

When Cynthia Beck faced her own mental health challenges on the farm, she discovered a lack of support for people in agriculture.

Years later, she’s providing that needed support through her research as a clinical psychology master’s student at the University of Regina.

“The people working in agriculture, that’s the population who feed us, and the population who feeds us are struggling,” Beck said.

Farmer’s lives are ones that are often high intensity and high stress. Leroy Berndt, executive director of the Regina branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said mental illnesses in farmers are due to many reasons.

“We as people like to have things under our control,” Berndt said.

“We can control how many hours a day we work, but the weather and the volatility of the markets are outside of our control and that stresses people.”

According to results from a 2018 national survey of farmer mental health, 35 percent of farmers met the criteria for depression, 45 percent had high levels of stress, and 58 percent met the criteria for anxiety.

Of those surveyed, 40 percent said they would be uncomfortable seeking help for their mental health.

Beck said the stigma surrounding mental health and confidentiality was to blame.

“In a small town, where you know who has gone to the health-care clinic that day because you can tell by the vehicles that are outside, and that plays a major role in people actually seeking help.”

Beck is offering an eight-week course in June called the Wellbeing Course, offered through the Online Therapy Unit at the U of R and created by Beck’s supervisor, Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos.

The course was developed at an Australian University, and Hadjistavropoulos adapted it to fit Canadians. Now, Beck has added to it further by incorporating resources for people in the agriculture sector.

Through this course, Beck believes she can provide confidentiality and accessibility to people in rural communities.

“The online aspect of delivering mental health services completely removes any concern about stigma or lack of confidentiality or lack of privacy,” Beck said. “It really overcomes all of those barriers.”

Beck said she hopes the course offers a new way for farmers to access mental health services. Until then, she said acknowledgement is important.

“I don’t know if there is enough recognition or awareness as to how much our mental health plays on the success of our farming operation,” Beck said.

“In farming, when we have people’s lives in our hands or the lives of our livestock, our mental health is so incredibly important. Especially considering the strain and the demands that we place on our body and our mind every day.”

Berdnt also said it’s important for farmers to look after themselves.

“The message needs to be that people need to take care of themselves,” he said. “We are so busy taking care of the animals, the machinery, the day-to-day operations that we need to stop also and take care of ourselves.”

Berdnt said resources are available if people need them, including a province-wide wellness support line through the CMHA, a non-profit website called Do More Ag, as well as a 211 line through the government of Saskatchewan.

Beck’s course launches in June, and runs for eight weeks with five lessons. Alongside the course, participants will each work with an individual therapist trained by Beck to deal specifically with struggles faced by people in agriculture.

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