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Farmers are at increased risk of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety

The Stettler Independent - 1/23/2019

By Kevin J. Sabo

For the Independent

The average Canadian has a one in five chance of developing a mental health issue in their lifetime, and at least 500,000 Albertans alone receive at least one mental health-related medical service per year.

That is nearly 12 per cent of the population of the province that seeks mental health treatment each year. According to research by the University of Guelph one sub-group could be more at risk than others.

"Our farmers are our greatest asset," said Lesley Kelly, the key-note speaker during the Jan. 18 Agriculture Mental Health Awareness Seminar held at the Stettler Community Hall. "And our farmers are hurting right now."

Kelly, the wife of a farmer, has seen the impact of mental illness in agriculture herself. Her husband of 17 years, Matt, has dealt with anxiety over the last few years from the day-to-day stress of managing and working on the farm, and Kelly herself went through the "baby blues" after the birth of their second child. The struggles the couple faced prompted them to post a video of their story online in July 2017, garnering more than 100,000 views within a matter of days.

"It's important to share these things," said Kelly. "People have been wanting to have this conversation."

Since she, and her husband, made the video, Kelly participated in the first ever mental health panel held at Farmtech in Edmonton in 2018 and has since become a founding member of the Do More Agricultural Foundation, a foundation focusing on mental health in agriculture. Do More is focusing on increasing mental health awareness, building community and capacity for mental health treatment, working with researchers to learn more about mental health in agriculture, and working on a yearly campaign to keep the conversation going. In 2018 Kelly also partnered with the Bell "Let's Talk" campaign to shed light on the struggles faced by many in the industry.

Based on research conducted by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton at the University of Guelph in a Canada wide survey of 1100 farmers, 35 per cent met the criteria for depression, 45 per cent were classified as having high stress, and nearly 60 per cent met the diagnostic criteria for having anxiety. These numbers may not show the full story either, as 40 per cent of respondents said that they wouldn't seek help due to the stigma.

READ MORE: Stettler County producers will get tax relief. County declared region a disaster area

For many, farming is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week career in tight-knit rural communities, and the stigma surrounding seeking mental health care is still alive and well.

"I'm not here to change your mind. I'm here to provide another perspective," said Kelly." I'm here to normalize the conversation."

The County of Stettler couldn't have picked a better time to start this important conversation. With Bell's "Let's Talk" day happening on Jan. 30, where Bell is donating $0.05 for every call, text, #BellLetsTalk tweet, or Facebook or Twitter video view to different community mental health initiatives. The conversation is starting in the community, and the nearly 50 people who attended this seminar will be able to carry the conversation to others in the industry, and just maybe save a life.

Various mental health supports can be found in the community through your doctor, Family and Community Support Services, the local mental health office, health-link (*811), and in emergencies, 911. Everyone has mental health, everyone deserves treatment, and no one should go through mental health problems on their own.

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