By Tom Collins
HALDIMAND-NORFOLK — Working alone can take a toll. A farmer can improve his mental health simply by having coffee with his buddies once a week, says a Peterborough manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Jack Veitch spoke to a group of about 50 farmers at a mental health forum last month put on by the Peterborough Ag Roundtable, an organization established last year for area farm groups to speak with one voice.
Veitch says that while farming is sometimes a lonely and stressful job, farmers can take small steps to make their mental health better.
“One of the best ways we can deal with isolation or loneliness is by reaching out to peers in support,” he said, promoting a walking group, a bunch of friends to play cards with or having a regular Sunday morning coffee with friends. “Those little things are proven to be beneficial to your mental health and wellness. Mental health doesn’t always have to be intensive counselling or intensive medication.”
If someone starts missing those events, it could be a sign for other group members to check to see how the absentee farmer is doing, Veitch said.
A 2016 University of Guelph online survey of 1,100 farmers has become the go-to study to highlight the risk of mental health issues on the farm. The survey — of which 70 per cent of respondents came from Ontario — found that 45 per cent could be suffering high stress, 58 per cent had some level of anxiety and 35 per cent could be suffering from depression.
Of the 50 people (across all adult age groups) who attended the meeting, about 25 signed up for a follow-up three-hour course that involves training on how to help others who are suicidal.
Lill Petrella, with the Brant Haldimand Norfolk chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said her chapter has never had a meeting aimed solely at farmers, and believes it would be difficult to get many farmers out to a meeting because of the stigma surrounding mental health.
“The stigma is strong, especially in our communities,” she said. “Everybody knows each other, and they don’t want to be really open about mental health or addiction issues, so they don’t seek out help. They keep it within the family.”
However, she thought the idea of a meeting being organized by farmers could lead to more success.
“It’s really hard to get (farmers) to come out for anything, even an information evening,” she said. “That isn’t to say we wouldn’t try, that’s for sure, but it has been difficult to reach that population. We know the issues are there, we know our outreach hasn’t been successful, but I do like that concept of having our agricultural farm groups set that up.”