Submitted by Canadian Mental Health Association Champlain East

Like millions of other Canadians, farmers contend with a heavy workload and soaring debt. But they also face unique challenges such as bad weather conditions and problems with livestock. For example, an outbreak of mad cow disease could prove devastating.

“When you think about the wide range of stressors that our farmers experience on a day-to-day basis, most of them are outside of their control,” said Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. That creates a sense of helplessness.

To make matters worse, many farmers live far from others and spend their working lives alone. Isolation and loneliness are commonplace, and the problem is especially acute in the colder months.

“Every winter in January or February, whenever we get severe weather and high winds, my driveway’s half a mile long and it can seem like the middle of nowhere and you feel vulnerable, geographically and otherwise,” Manitoba farmer Tobyn Dyck told Country Guide. “Your world gets small.”

Needless to say, farmers are predisposed to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But most of them value independence and self-reliance, so they are hesitant to seek help. That is starting to change, however, thanks in part to initiatives such as In the Know, a mental health literacy program for farmers, and organizations such as Do More Ag, a non-profit that focuses on mental health in agriculture. More farmers than ever are acknowledging they have mental health problems and are taking steps to address them. Many farmers now use social media to feel connected to other people or leave their farms for a short time to learn a new skill, play a sport or visit friends.

With winter just around the corner, mental health experts are encouraging more farmers to take steps are
necessary to alleviate feelings of isolation.

“Loneliness can become a kind of habit when you don’t invest in other parts of your life,” psychologist
Pierette Desrosiers told Country Guide.

“You have to go outside, and it will cost you a bit of time and money, but you have to do something to break that cycle.”

If loneliness and depression become crippling, counselling can help — and stigma shouldn’t be a deterrent.

“Sometimes there’s the feeling that there must be something wrong with you if you’re going to counseling,” David Nelson, a senior consultant with CMHA Saskatchewan, told SaskToday.

“But the fact of the matter is, sometimes, just talking to somebody [aside from] a friend or relative … can really help to clear your mind of some of these concerns and give you coping mechanisms.”

Mental health experts know that isolation is a serious problem in the agricultural sector, but Canadians would be well-served if everyone took notice.

“The next time you’re driving outside of the city and you see just one yard amid thousands of acres of unoccupied land,” Dyck wrote in the Financial Post.

“Know that as lonely as that farm looks is as lonely as some farmers feel.”