June 18th, 2024

Advocates looking for mental health supports for farmers

By Tim Kalinowski on August 13, 2021.

Herald photo by Tim Kalinowski - NDP Agriculture Critic Heather Sweet, alongside Lethbridge County councillor Tory Campbell, speaks Thursday on advocates' calls for provincial funding for a 24/7 mental health crisis line geared specifically toward those who work in the agriculture industry.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Advocates are calling on the provincial government to do more to support the mental health of farmers by funding a 24/7 mental health crisis line geared specifically toward those in the agriculture industry.
Lethbridge County councillor Tory Campbell said the Rural Municipalities Association had passed a resolution calling for the formation of such a line in 2019, but so far the provincial government had received an “unsatisfactory” grade from the RMA on following through.
“In the sense the government wasn’t willing to invest the funds to go forward with a 24/7 mental health phone line,” Campbell explained. “We feel it is a very straightforward request. Very simple. Not a lot of moving parts. So to this point I would say we are not happy with what has happened to this point, and we are obviously pushing for more. We think it is a very doable ask, and we think that it is something that needs to be taken care of sooner rather than later.”
Campbell said it was particularly important this year that the province act as farmers’ mental health has deteriorated markedly in this summer of drought, poor crops, grasshoppers, and lack of feed for animals.
“I do believe mental health is going to suffer,” Campbell stated. “I don’t see how it doesn’t. We can do as much as we can in our communities and help each other, but the reality is we need more help than that.
“I think we carry so much weight on our shoulders. We take it so personally when a crop fails that we think that we failed.”
Campbell was joined in his call on Thursday by Alberta NDP Opposition Agriculture Critic Heather Sweet, who has been touring drought devastated areas of Lethbridge County, Raymond, Nanton, Vulcan and Claresholm since Monday.
“I know farmers are resilient, and I know the industry will get through these difficult times,” she said. “But, no matter what happens going forward, we know this season has been particularly difficult on the people working in agriculture. And so today, we are calling on the UCP government to support mental health for all agriculture workers in all the sectors.”
Sweet said she would also like to see the province fund five free counselling sessions for any producer in Alberta who might need some extra support.
The Do More Agriculture Foundation, which specializes in advocacy for farmers’ mental health, also sent a statement of support on Thursday after their local representative could not be present in person. The Foundation has been advocating for a 24/7 mental health line for farmers for a number of years, but said the funding from provinces and the federal government had so far been slow in coming.
“Producers in Alberta and all across Canada experience higher rates of mental illness than almost any other industry,” the statement from Do More Ag executive director Adelle Stewart reads. “We lack access to agriculture specific mental health support and research shows that farmers are more likely to get help for mental health from someone who understands the industry.
“Agriculture producers need us to come together and offer this program in efforts to fulfill the national recommendations, save lives, and improve the quality of lives for farmers before we lose one more.”
Stewart said finding additional resources to support producer mental health was literally a matter of life and death.
“Farmers are dying by suicide and living with increasing mental illness, and developing unhealthy coping strategies in an industry that (is) only getting more difficult to keep afloat in,” Stewart says.
Campbell, who farms south of Coaldale, said for years he was hesitant to advocate publicly for supports for mental health in agriculture, but now feels everyone has a part to play to get rid of the stigma of mental illness in the industry.
“I am very fortunate to do what I do,” he said. “I get to live my dream. But I would be lying if I said it was easy. I have sat next to a grain bin that had bugs in it, and I cried, I yelled. I have cursed and screamed. I have watched as a north wind carried away my canola crop, a west wind shattered my wheat, a south wind ravaged my flax crop … I have lost blood. I have even lost a couple fingertips. I have laid awake at night thinking about how I am going to make this work.
“I believe the Alberta government should listen to the work of agricultural and mental health organizations across our province, (and) provide the resources to make a 24/7 mental health line a reality for farmers in our province.”
Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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