y Connor Lynch
GUELPH — As many as a third of Ontario farmers could be suffering from depression, suggests a University of Guelph online survey.
The national online survey, conducted last September to January, received 70 per cent of its 1,132 responses from Ontario, and the results paint a stark picture of farmers’ mental health.
Thirty-five per cent of respondents had answers that suggested depression, 58 per cent suggested some level of anxiety, and 45 per cent showed signs of high stress.
The survey also contained a section for open-ended responses. “What makes me the most upset is that I have everything I dreamed of — love, family and a farm — and all I feel is overwhelmed, out of control and sad,” said one producer.
Another producer said that “he feels as though his entire way of life is under attack, that he’s constantly being scrutinized by the public,” said Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, an epidemiologist and veterinarian who was part of the team conducting the survey.
Of particular surprise to Jones-Bitton was farmers’ resilience, or rather their lack of it. “(Farmers) are strong, they’re very clever, they’re savvy, and they’re able to adapt quite well. I had assumed given those characteristics their resilience would be really high. But what we found was that resilience was actually low. They can be all those things but that doesn’t mean that the stresses they’re facing on a daily basis aren’t having an impact on their mental health.”
Depression came as less of a surprise. “Anecdotally, it seems as if everyone knows of at least one farmer who’s struggling, or knows a family where a farmer has died of suicide.”
Two-thirds of respondents said they would be willing to seek professional help.
But around 40 per cent of respondents also said they’d have concerns about seeking help because of what others might think.
“One gentleman said to me that people in the community think that if you’re depressed you aren’t working hard enough; if you were working harder you wouldn’t have time to be depressed.”
Another problem producers identified is confidentiality. “If they see my truck parked outside the psychologist’s office, everybody knows,” one producer said.
That’s if there even is a psychologist in town; access to mental health resources in rural areas can be limited or nonexistent said Jones-Bitton.
Jones-Bitton said that the willingness to seek help was a good sign. Now, the team is going to be launching a mental health literacy program aimed specifically at farmers in the fall, looking at training farmers on what warning signs to look for and to reduce the ag community’s stigma around mental illness.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada rolled out a pilot program last summer for veterinarians and farmers, which she said was a terrific program and well received, but “it’s a two-day program. It’s hard for farmers to get away from the farm for two full days.
“We want to create our own program, specific for agriculture.”