AgSafe, partners providing mental health supports for farmers

Organization launching mental health lunch and learn series

AgSafe, partners providing mental health supports for farmers

Recognizing that agricultural work is associated with unique stressors that are potentially hazardous to mental wellness, AgSafe, with the help of partners, is providing numerous mental health supports for farmers, ranchers and growers in British Columbia.

The organization is bringing mental wellness counselling opportunities for individuals and groups at no cost to the province’s agricultural producers and their families affected by COVID-19, wildfires and floods. This is made possible with funding support from United Way Fraser Valley and B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

“There is such a stigma around mental health, that producers, like many people, tend not to open up and talk to someone about what they are feeling. After the past two years, many are feeling pretty burned out,” said Wendy Bennett, executive director of AgSafe.

“That’s why AgSafe is working to create safe spaces and resources that are specific to agriculture. The mental wellness practitioners we work with live and work in the agricultural community. Many are farmers and know what farmers go through.”

Resources available to B.C.’s farmers, their families and workers include the Avail app, a personal well-being assistant that offers resilience check-ups and connects directly with mental health professionals and resources.

Previously, the federal and Ontario governments jointly invested more than $7 million through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to launch two, new multi-year mental health initiatives that are specialized to protect the mental health of farmers and their families.

AgSafe also recently collaborated with the Canadian Mental Health Association of BC to provide reference information for use by crisis line operators when communicating with individuals working in, or associated with agriculture.

The organization is also launching Mental Health Lunch & Learns – a series of 30-minute webinars hosted by mental health practitioners engaged by AgSafe. Initial topics include Healthy Habits, Fatigue, Chronic Stress and Trauma.

Many agricultural workers struggle with mental health, based on a 2018 survey of 1,100 farmers conducted in 2018 by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Specifically, 35 per cent of farmers met the classification for depression and 45 per cent reported high stress. Nearly six in 10 (58 per cent) also met the classification for anxiety and 68 per cent were more susceptible than the general population to chronic stress.

More than eight in 10 (84 per cent) of the 1,304 workers surveyed in October 2021 felt burned out over the previous two years, according to Ceridian.

The work, and the life, is strenuous and often solitary and farmers and ranchers regularly feel the expectation to work hard, be strong and resilient, according to AgSafe. Because of this, many rarely ask for help when they feel anxious or depressed.

The stigma around mental health is still preventing employees from bringing up mental health in the workplace, according to a previous report.