Immediate action uncommon with farm stress

Anxiety and depression are the most seen mental health issues facing today’s farmers, but many don’t seek help till later

Farming is a stressful business, and 2020 is shaping up to be a doozy.

A dry summer across a good part of the Prairies last year was followed by a delayed harvest due to excess moisture in fall. That led to poor yields and crop left unharvested over winter in some areas.

Then came the railway blockades this winter, which upset grain transportation. Crashing cattle markets also swept in earlier this year.

Now, with the uncertainty and fallout from COVID-19, producers must be wondering how much worse it can get.

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“It has been our experience that many producers will not reach out during the actual time of crisis because they are too busy trying to deal with the immediate situation,” said Kim Hyndman-Moffat of Strathclair, Man., who is involved with the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services toll-free phone line.

“It is very common for us to see a bump in our call volumes six months or even a year following the crisis event.”

Over the decades, she has witnessed an increase in the number of callers per year and the types of stressors that farmers experience. Anxiety and depression seem to be the most common mental health issues facing today’s farmers, with many contributing factors to blame.

She added that although choice is usually considered a positive, it can be overwhelming for farmers inundated with too many choices to make: they can cause confusion, take too much time to explore and provoke anxiety.

Many farmers also face relationship struggles, multi-generational farming issues, and problems with farm transitions. As well, isolated working conditions that can lead to loneliness, fatigue and burnout and too much time spent in solitude dwelling on negative thoughts can wreak havoc in the minds of some farmers.

The assumption of high-risk stakes usually falls squarely on the shoulders of the owner-operator of the farm, who is aware that a bad decision can be detrimental when there is little to no room for error. It is no wonder that it can lead to an exhausting and unhealthy work/life balance.

There’s no union to help a farmer out, no paid sick time or stress leave — only the responsibility of knowing that if you don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done.

The fact that the industry is still predominately male cannot be ignored. While mental health issues are not gender-biased, traditionally men have been taught to suppress their emotions and not to open up and talk about their problems.

“I had a farmer that called the line for a number of months as he was struggling with a marriage breakup and impending loss of his family’s generational farm,” recalled Hyndman-Moffat. “He was distraught, felt defeated and calling the line was his last hope before making the decision to end his life. He shared what the farm meant to him and his family, and his fears of knowing what he would do if he wasn’t farming.

“We didn’t solve his problems in one call or even six. But over a few months of regular check-ins, the producer committed to stay connected and to work daily on small manageable tasks that he felt capable of performing. As his self-confidence increased, so did his ability to consider other options for working through his legal issues and feelings of depression.

“He later shared that calling the line that first time was his last act before taking his life. He has since been an advocate in his community and with his circle of friends to push past whatever barriers are there in order to get help. This is not an uncommon kind of call and it is what makes this service valuable and relevant.”

Hyndman-Moffat encourages anyone having problems, or anyone who has concern for a loved one’s well-being, to reach out.

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