By Elizabeth Gay
When another stressor is added to an already heavy load, it could just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Wellspring Counselling Services Counsellor Lauren Van Ewyk has seen a significant increase in numbers of patients and anxieties per patient in her Canada-wide farming clientele since the start of COVID early this year.
Canadian farmers already struggle with mental health issues. A 2019 study of 1,132 farmers revealed that 33 % likely suffered from anxiety and 15 % from depression. COVID has only aggravated the problem.
Van Ewyk, who also runs Cedarview Farm at Brigden, just south of Sarnia, said COVID-related staffing issues “created an upshot of chronic stress” among her farming patients. In the COVID’s early stages some farms saw their staff cut in half whether it was due to a partner staying home with kids or delays of migrant workers entering the country. Nonetheless, a farm’s workload doesn’t decrease, even in a pandemic, she said.
Spencerville egg farmer, John Dobbie explained that COVID’s “chain-effect” created worrying complications and scheduling setbacks for his farm with the shutdown of Maple Lodge Farms, the area’s poultry euthanizer. The Ontario egg board notified him to make alternate plans.
Further angst on the farm arose with concerns of employees contracting the virus. “I talked to the health board. What do I do if one of my employees comes down with COVID?” Dobbie asked. “I literally can’t shut down.” The health board was understanding and said they’d access the situation if it happened, not completely consoling.
The farming lifestyle is already accompanied by multifactorial stressors: a difficult work-life balance, built-in potential for isolation, and financial pressure. It doesn’t help if farmers are unwilling to turn to the available mental health supports, Van Ewyk said. The younger generation tend to seek help, however, there remains a stigma among some, especially the older farmers, to work things out themselves, she said.
Cutting down human interaction with social distancing has negatively affected the urban and rural alike, even the most resilient of farmers. “Its (COVID) been more of a mental issue” as fewer people are visiting, Dobbie said.
Morrisburg cash crop farmer Charles Farlinger shared his strategies for keeping up with the boys despite the distancing: Taking their regular coffees from Tim Hortons and McDonald’s to the park.