Farmers and ranchers in Canada report much higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and emotional exhaustion than the general population and they are twice as likely to think about death from suicide.
Three out of four ranchers and farmers say they are experiencing high to moderate stress.
These are alarming statistics and the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association has now teamed up with AgSafe, a non-profit health and safety association for agricultural producers in B.C., to launch a new suicide prevention program within the province’s agricultural community.
“Support for farmers struggling with their mental health is increasingly needed with the stressors they face,” said Jeremy Vaandrager, Ritchie-Smith Feeds, Inc., in a statement announcing the new program. “Farmers supporting farmers is key. Knowing the stressors a farmer faces can only be truly known by another farmer. As a farming community we need to look out for each other and find support together with each other.”
Researchers at the University of Guelph surveyed nearly 1,200 farmers and ranchers across the country for a study released last year. They found one in five met the classification for moderate to severe depressive disorders and one out of four had thought of taking their own life. Three out of four reported experiencing moderate to high stress and one in five suffered moderate to severe anxiety disorders.
The researchers also found the farmers surveyed had significantly higher alcohol consumption than the general public - a rate of consumption that rose after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In B.C., the provincial mental health support line saw a 15 to 20 per cent increase in calls after the floods of November 2021 and farmers made up the bulk of those calls, according to a manager with the service.
“Day-to-day farming is demanding work,” Wendy Bennett, executive director of AgSafe, said in a statement announcing the new program. “Devastating weather events over the past few years and an economic downturn have only pushed the mental well-being of B.C.’s agricultural community further into crisis.”
The AgLife Network is a community-based, peer-support service aimed at suicide prevention and public education. It will include a network of trained volunteers who interact closely with farmers, growers and ranchers throughout the province, who can identify those who may be struggling and connect them with services.
The project is part of AgSafe’s greater mental health effort, funding for which was announced by the province in June. Inspired by the Association Québécoise de Prévention du Suicide’s Sentinel program, the AgLife Network will include training service providers to identify risks and intervention strategies, building a peer network of B.C. farmers and farm families with learned intervention skills, and providing supportive clinical counselling.
The initial pilot program for the AgLife Network will be based on the south coast, where the highest concentration of agricultural production in B.C. is centred.
It has been a difficult year for B.C. farmers, Agriculture and Food Minister Pam Alexis said.
“They have been working through the stress of drought and fires while continuing to produce the food we rely on,” she said. “It is important for B.C. farmers to remember to look after themselves, to be aware, and to make use of the people and supports available. This program helps those healthy connections and conversations begin in an atmosphere that recognizes the unique lifestyle and challenges that come with farming.”