'Having access to an app in the privacy of one’s own home will enhance the likelihood of people asking for help when they need it the most'
Innovation Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Agriculture are partnering with a health services company to provide farmers with a new tool to track their mental health and link them with supports.
The tool is a mobile app – called ‘Avail’ – that analyzes wellness data supplied by the user and offers support including articles, videos and online tips, or more immediate help from a personal support network.
“Despite progress made, there is still stigma associated with asking for support when it comes to mental health,” said Tina Beaudry-Mellor, minister responsible for Innovation Saskatchewan. “Having access to an app in the privacy of one’s own home will enhance the likelihood of people asking for help when they need it the most.”
The mobile app, developed by Bridges Health in Saskatoon, was selected during a province-wide Innovation Challenge in the spring of 2020, where technology entrepreneurs offered solutions to assist Saskatchewan farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers in actively monitoring their mental health.
The company will receive $10,000 in funding and a 16-week collaboration with the government to develop the mobile app for winning the contest.
“As a company founded and based in Saskatchewan, the agriculture sector touches both our business and our families,” said Leon Ferguson, Bridges Health vice president. “We are honored to have this opportunity to work with government and partners to develop and advance this mental health and overall wellness tool.”
Calls to the Saskatchewan farm stress line doubled in 2018-2019 compared to the previous year and, in 2020, COVID-19 is placing new pressures on people within the agriculture sector, according to the government.
“Saskatchewan producers face unique challenges when it comes to dealing with mental health and we are committed to providing resources and strategies to help support them,” said David Marit, minister of agriculture. “We know there is a need for solutions like this and I’m looking forward to working with Bridges Health to provide a resource custom-built for the agriculture industry.”
Innovation Challenges encourage Saskatchewan-based tech companies to find innovative answers to issues facing the public. Previous projects introduced tech responses to rural crime, online permissions for hunting and fishing on private land and tracking landfill waste.
Nearly half (48 per cent) of Canadians are very concerned about their mental health as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report from Renascent, a substance addiction treatment and concurrent mental health disorders provider.
Also, 40 per cent of pre-retirees have a negative outlook on their life in retirement – the highest rate of negative retirement perception among Canadians since 2014, according to a separate report from investment management firm Fidelity Investment Canada.