It’s been a rough harvest. If you didn’t have a miserable harvest, you may have been stricken by drought. If you weren’t worried about the weather, there were the NAFTA renegotiations to keep you up at night.
The House of Commons Ag Committee has been studying mental health issues among farmers and livestock producers. The committee heard about the problems specific to producers who are struggling with mental health. Here’s a summary of the problems people brought forward in late September:
1. Lack of resources in their area, which might mean a long drive to get help.
2. Lack of understanding about ag among some mental health professionals.
3. A culture of toughness that prevents some from seeking help.
There were some interesting ideas and hopeful signs from the hearings. Lesley Kelly, one of Do More Ag’s co-founders, spoke to the committee. Do More Ag and Farm Credit Canada are offering mental health first aid workshops to 12 to 14 agricultural communities, at no cost to the communities. Kelly said they had expected 10 to 12 applications. Instead, they received over 80.
Another interesting concept came from Alain d’Amours of Contact Richelieu-Yamaska, a mental health clinic in Quebec. He spoke briefly about their farming sentinel program, which trains people who work with farmers to detect distress.
“We are already seeing that these sentinels are useful. People call us and seek help sooner,” he said.
I have no doubt that rural, and many urban, communities need more resources to address mental health. But often there are local resources available.
The Turtleford, Sask., area has qualified people to help with addictions and provide counselling for adults and children. People can also access a psychiatrist. They work out of the Turtleford hospital complex and the clinics in St. Walburg and Edam. They don’t require referrals for appointments, people can simply call intake at 306-446-6500. The one exception is psychiatric rehab, which requires a referral from the psychiatrist.
In early June, local organizers held a mental health in the workplace day in Turtleford. From Turtleford alone, a doctor, counsellor and Anglican minister shared their knowledge and experience with mental health. The day also featured speakers from the neighbouring communities of Thunderchild, North Battleford and beyond.
Dr. Mzi Tshatshela had some practical advice when dealing with mental health. Recognize there’s a problem, seek help and stick with the plan. For example, don’t quit prescribed medication after a couple of months even if you feel better. Take care of yourself: exercise, sleep and eat well.
Johann Engelke, manager of the Battlefords Mental Health Centre and a registered psychiatric nurse, also spoke. The Centre takes referrals but people can also walk into the hospital without a referral. An intake worker will assess the situation. If someone is stuck in a psychotic or manic episode or has an achievable suicide plan, they may be admitted or see a psychiatrist immediately. If the risk is lower, the psychiatrist will work with a family doctor.
You may have similar resources in your community. If you or your spouse has an off-farm job, you might be able to access support through an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP). This could mean setting up phone calls with a counsellor in the evenings or visit a counsellor in person. Employee benefits also help cover medication costs.
Remember, there’s no shame in looking for support. Farmers look for help all the time from agronomists and business advisors. Why should mental well-being be any different? Please look out for yourself, your family and your community.