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Ag group urging open talk about mental health

Posted on June 15, 2023 by Vauxhall Advance

By Kendall King
Southern Alberta Newspapers

The Do More Agriculture Foundation is hoping to encourage discussions about mental health in the agricultural industry through its new #TalkItOut campaign.

Established in 2018, the national foundation aims to increase the mental well-being of farmers and producers through various initiatives, including grant funding, public workshops and literacy programs and its annual awareness and engagement campaign.

“With our engagement campaigns, we’re looking at breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health in agriculture, working on normalizing the conversation and encouraging people to have the conversation,” executive director Megz Reynolds told the News. “And so, this year’s campaign, #TalkItOut, is really geared towards the importance of starting those conversations and reaching out for help.”

Run throughout the next year, the campaign has multiple components including social media engagement and digital and print advertising.

“It’s really about connecting with individuals and understanding that we’re not alone in our thoughts (as), oftentimes, we feel like we are,” said Reynolds, highlighting the importance of having mental health discussions specific to the ag industry.

“In agriculture, we’re struggling with mental health more than in any other industry,” said Reynolds. “We have 20 to 30 per cent higher rates of suicide than any other industry in Canada, and what we know coming into 2021, is that one-in-four Canadian producers felt like their life was not worth living, wished that they were dead or had thought about taking their own life, in the last 12 months. We’re at a crisis point right now.”

Data from the same study showed Canadian farmers and producers are significantly more likely to experience or engage in excessive sleeping, social isolation, disordered eating, alcohol consumption and self-blame as a response to stress.

While Reynolds wholeheartedly supports Canada’s ag industry, she acknowledges that certain aspects of it, by nature, can have a negative effect on the mental health of its members.

“The stigma surrounding mental health and agriculture is very strong,” said Reynolds. “We’re a very stoic industry. We attach our sense of self-worth and identity to our ability to farm, so when something happens on farm or we’re struggling economically, we can feel that we’ve failed as a farmer and we’ve failed as an individual.

“Another piece of it is that we are living where we work. So, there’s no separation between work and life. We are oftentimes working with family members, which can be an amazing thing, and sometimes it can be very challenging and stressful thing.”

While Reynolds is concerned about ongoing issues regarding mental health in agriculture, she remains hopeful the industry is taking strides in addressing them.

“We’re now at a place with the industry where if you go to a conference or a farm show, you’re most likely going to see an organization that is there to represent mental health and to encourage conversations,” she said.

Reynolds feels organizations like The Do More Agriculture Foundation are instrumental in generating change, but says industry members also play a role by initiating discussions and watching out for each other.

She welcomes industry members to join online discussions by using the hashtag #TalkItOut, and encourages them to continue learning about the topic by visiting the foundation’s website at domore.ag.

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