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A farmer is not born, a farmer is built. As a jack of all trades, the farmer develops many skills: a fighter, a politician, a pastor, and a mechanic. They fight for their work, they dialogue with their neighbours, they pray for good harvests, and they tire to fix broken machinery.

Tractors leaking oil, broken alley scrapers, and seized vacuum motors are easily diagnosed and will be fixed in due time—but what if it is the farmer that is feeling broken?

The farm and mental health

In 2016, a study by the University of Guelph was conducted on more than 1100 agricultural producers across Canada. The results indicated that a staggering 35% of farmers met the definition for depression and nearly 60% felt high levels of anxiety. This is no wonder considering the array of possible pressures: changes in the weather, political upheaval, portrayal in the media, etc.

The stoic bravado of the farmer centres on the idea that one should be able to bear one’s own struggles. The philosophy of the occupation has long been “suck it up and move on”. The desire to achieve and the failure to reach goals could also lead to these depressive states. Success is often limited to factors beyond human control; so a farmer might overcorrect in order to repair, and in the end, find themselves burnt-out and depressed.

They might even hear the phrase, “You’re crying over spilled milk.”

Reaching out for help isn’t always a simple matter. This stigma can affect your brand: if you are not doing well, then it is assumed that your business is not doing well either.  The survey also indicated that 40% of respondents felt uncomfortable getting professional help because of what “people might think”.

If you do not know or are unsure of the signs or symptoms of depression, it can manifest in many ways including trouble concentrating and remembering details, fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in activities, and insomnia, as well as physical aches and pains.

Community and well-being

A farmer’s heavy workload combined with a small community and isolated work can be factors contributing to depression and anxiety. When you are alone, the stress of the day can continuously brew and accumulate pressure. Alone in the barn, you are your own boss:  you are accountable to you and only you.  The loneliness can be hard.

In Australia, a study was completed by 417 respondents who suffered depression, two-thirds of whom identified that they sought care from their friends as a social or emotional support. They often cited that they felt more comfortable investing in these relationships because they felt compassion and empathy. As a farmer, you become accustomed to being alone, but interacting with your neighbours and friends is more compatible with mental wellness.

Resolve

When machinery is broken, it takes money, parts, and time to fix. When a cow is sick, it takes medicine, time, and care to restore its health. Similarly, when the heavy cloud of mental illness sets in to you or others, there is a need to invest.

If you are a farmer, you can look to those around you. If you think that you are the only one struggling, think again. A Farm Stress Hotline in Saskatchewan reported in 2011, a total of 330 calls made to the hotline, a number just shy of one call per day. Just last year, the hotline peaked at 59 calls for the month of July. As neighbours we are all in the same boat, no matter the industry.  Shane Koyczan observes that “Silence left to its own devices breeds silence.”

Tomorrow, January 31 is Bell “Let’s Talk Day”; if your friends and neighbours are not talking, start the conversation. The more open you are with your friends and neighbours, the more willing they will be to share with you.

There may also be time to talk, to be upset, or get some rest, because sometimes “spilled milk” is more than that: it’s your livelihood or your job, and why you wake up every day. It doesn’t matter what it is. You don’t need permission to be upset over spilled milk.


References

Zimmer, Becky. “An isolating illness: talking about mental health” (2017) Retrieved from: Western Producer. https://www.producer.com/2017/08/an-isolating-illness-talking-about-mental-health/

“Farmers Need, Want Mental Health Help: Survey” (2016) Retrieved from: University of Guelph. https://news.uoguelph.ca/2016/06/farmers-need-want-mental-health-help-survey/

Griffiths, Kathleen M., et al. “Seeking help for depression from family and friends: A qualitative analysis of perceived advantages and disadvantages(2011) Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3271042/

“New operators to take Sask. farm crisis line 24/7” (2012) Retrieved from: AgCanada. https://www.agcanada.com/daily/new-operators-to-take-sask-farm-crisis-line-247

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