New Collaboration Puts Mental Health First with Three Free Programs for Farmers

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The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture have joined forces to offer Agriculture Wellness Ontario, a set of programs created to guarantee farmers are receiving mental health support.

The programs included in Agriculture Wellness Ontario are “the Farmer Wellness Initiative, a free individual counselling service; The Guardian Network, a volunteer suicide-prevention network; and, In the Know, a mental health literacy workshop tailored to the agriculture community,” according to a release.

Farmers Wellness Initiative

Farmers Wellness Initiative provides farmers and their families throughout Ontario access to free counselling that is available 24/7/365. The initiative provides trained counsellors that recognize the unique stresses that the farming community faces. To contact a counsellor, dial 1-866-267-6255 or visit the official site.

“We know that farmers experience chronic stress at a higher rate than the general population. The many constant and growing demands that come with farming can result in farmers putting their work ahead of their own well-being. With Agriculture Wellness Ontario we are aiming to de-stigmatize and reduce barriers in asking for help,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Ontario.

The Guardian Network

The Guardian Network is a “community-based and evidence-informed volunteer suicide prevention program,” explained the release. Those who are over 18, in contact with farmers in their work or community and have completed the training are eligible to become a Guardian. For more information, visit the official site.

In The Know

In the Know is a free training program for mental health literacy created by members of the agricultural community at the University of Guelph. The four-hour workshop covers the areas of stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse, detailing how to begin a conversation surrounding mental health. The free workshops are facilitated by CMHA mental health professionals with real examples from agriculture. For more information, visit the official site.

“Between supply chain issues, climate change events, animal diseases and inflation, farmers have to deal with more and more stress,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “While we are redoubling our efforts to break the stigma around mental health issues, producers must have resources tailored to their experience.”

Experts behind the programs believe that the agricultural community plays a crucial part in the economy and food security of Ontarians.

“Our government is listening to the needs of the agricultural community and appreciates just how stressful running a farm can be,” said Lisa Thompson, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “From dealing with unpredictable weather, commodity prices or increasing costs of production, these pressures are having a real effect on the mental health of farmers and their families. That’s why our government is providing the necessary funding for these programs to help support the mental health of our famers and their families across Ontario.”

According to a recent study, people in rural areas in the more developed countries (U.S., Canada) are 1.4 times more likely to die by suicide than their urban counterparts. In rural Canada specifically, 45 per cent of farmers reported high stress levels, 58 per cent anxiety and 35 per cent depression in a study by the University of Guelph.

“As an organization, we are thrilled to be part of the launch of this program,” added Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “Increasing our awareness and confidence discussing mental health will contribute to resilience for farm families and rural communities across Ontario. The targeted initiatives will be invaluable to farmers and throughout the agriculture sector.”

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