Many Canadian farmers struggle with mental health, but it isn’t always easy for them to talk about it.
That’s why an event in Eastern Ontario next week is hoping to kickstart a conversation that could save lives.
On Nov. 22, the Dare To Be Vulnerable Project will host a panel of local farmers in a candid conversation about mental health in Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector. The event, called “Fielding Hope: Farmers Unite for Mental Health,” will be held at Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm in Edwards, Ont., starting at 5:30 p.m.
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According to a recent study from the University of Alberta, farming is associated with a number of occupational stressors that are linked to a higher suicide risk.
The review of 14 previous studies found that a mental health crisis has been unfolding in the profession for years across Canada and other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and India.
Another study from the University of Guelph polled nearly 1,000 Canadian farmers in 2021 and found that 57 per cent were experiencing anxiety, 34 per cent depression, and 62 per cent psychological distress.
Earl Stanley, owner of Stanley’s Olde Maple Lane Farm in Edwards, southeast of Ottawa, said it’s an issue that can be difficult for farmers to discuss.
“They generally work in solitude,” he said. “It’s hard for them to express their feelings. We’re more of a rough-and-ready crowd and we go about things differently than our counterparts in the city. It’s difficult when you’re by yourself to try and get help. There’s a stigma to saying you’re having mental health issues.”
According to Stanley, farmers and their families are often under immense pressure, which can lead to worsening mental health outcomes. Their work requires significant monetary investment and comes with high risks, leaving them and their business at the mercy of changing weather patterns and the whims of the market.
He said he hopes local farmers will take the opportunity to attend and be a part of the conversation.
“They’re a hard group to get to an event like this, because it’s not something they want to admit; no one does,” he said. “But I’m hoping we can get a few out and that this resonates with their life, then they’ll reach out and talk to somebody. Even if we just get one or two people to listen and realize, hey, I’m going through that same stress and I need to reach out and get some help.”
The panel will be the seventh event hosted by the Dare To Be Vulnerable Project this year. According to founder Susan Blain, each event is aimed at stirring up conversations around mental health in communities where that conversation may not be happening. A previous panel featured local CEOs, and an upcoming event in December will highlight mental health in the tech community.
“It’s an opportunity to make them feel, hopefully, that they’re not alone in their struggles,” said Blain. “They struggle like everybody else and it’s okay to not be okay and to reach out and talk about it.”
Blain said these conversations can save lives.
“A lot of people are struggling in silence,” she said. “When we witness somebody who’s brave enough to be vulnerable, especially in front of others, something very palpable happens. When we share our stories, we give others permission to do the same and this domino effect happens. It connects us.”
The panel will feature members of the local farming community including: Alex Munro, an entrepreneur raised on a horse farm in Maxville; Slater Koekkoek, a former NHLer from a dairy farm in Hallville; and Courtney Argue, a registered nurse, psychotherapist and steward of 26 acres of land and 31 animals.
Details for the event are available at www.daretobevulnerable.com.