Mental Health for Farmers by Shirley Dolan

Shirley Dolan
Shirley Dolan

“Many farmers suffer from high levels of stress and depression, but they don’t often talk about it.”
On January 20, Farm Management Canada in partnership with Do More Agriculture held a workshop on Healthy Farmers, Healthy Farms Supporting our Rural Communities at the North Grenville Municipal Centre in Kemptville. Speakers at the event were Deb Vanberkel, Cultivate Councelling and Heather Watson, Executive Director, Farm Management Canada were the guest speakers. Carleton Landowners Association president Tim Mount attended. OLA ENews spoke with Tim to get his observations of the meeting.
ENews: Why did you attend?

Tim: I attended because through the OLA’s various battles with governmental and quasi governmental agencies one of the observations I and others had made was that the cause of a few of these cases was mental health and the result of almost all of the cases was almost unbearable stress on the family or individual targeted by these various agencies.

ENews: Was your message received?

Tim: My attending wasn’t about sending a message. My attending was about observing first hand if there was quantifiable evidence that there is undue stress in the rural community and whether farmers and rural property owners would step forward to talk about the stresses they are under. Two things became clear; this was not the forum for farmers to speak out in nor was it necessarily the forum they would attend. One farmer spoke out when the main speaker, Deb Vanberkel of Cultivate Counselling, started speaking about the on farm causes of stress and mental health issues. He had indicated that his family was under tremendous stress from the govt and quasi govt agencies because of designations, undue regulations, fear of activists, fear of trespassers, police etc. Others agreed that having designations placed on their farms greatly impacted their livelihood and a dawning realization that their property has lost massive value with designations and proximity. One of the negative issues raised was the wind turbines in Nation and elsewhere in the province that were affecting farm and rural families very negatively.

ENews: Who else was at the meeting? Was it well attended?

Tim: There were 17 attendees plus the 4 speakers. The attendees were comprised of about 60% farmers and 40% farm support personnel. A few attendees had dual roles of being farmers and support personnel.

ENews: Was this a worthwhile workshop? Were the speakers well received?

Tim: It is a snapshot in time. It was worthwhile as it showed me that only people who were comfortable talking about their issues would come forward. The silent majority of Farmers/Rurals who struggle through because of various burdens will not come to these seminars/conferences because they believe they won’t be heard. There is also, even today, the stigma around mental health; not being able to handle it yourself, appearing weak etc.

The speakers were well received especially Deb Vanberkel as she gets it and is a dairy farmer herself.

ENews: Did you get impressions from others at the workshop?

Tim: I was there to listen and observe. This meeting emphasized that our support as Ontario Landowners was completely justified in our (Jeff Bogaerts) legal challenge to the OSPCA Act. The human side of why people keep pets or are animal husbandry specialists has never been dealt with in legislation.

Right now the two big offenders are the PAWS Act in which the govt didn’t listen to our concerns about how the legislation impacts people and the Conservation Act under which the Conservation Authorities have been overstepping their mandate. Both these pieces of legislation were named at this Rural/Farm mental health day. The green energy issue was also named as a culprit of stress in a health and financial impact context re carbon tax.

As Landowners, we had seen time and time again, OSPCA agents target the people unable to defend themselves. We saw in many of the cases that the agents were the causes of the problems not the farmer/pet owner. 99.9% of people who deal with animals deal with them humanely and in some cases as parts of the family. Some people needed pets as ‘service animals’ but not officially as we are seeing today. Under PAWS none of this is addressed. (See the OLA’s recommendations for change to the OSPCA Act. Clearly, we had advocated social support to address any financial or health issues which may have led to a deterioration of an animal’s care. This recommendation was ignored when PAWS was drafted. See the OLA’s recommendations for a new animal care act in Ontario

ENews: Will there be a follow-up/future workshops?

Tim: My sense is there will be. They will only be well attended though if the people believe that there will be listening and action based on what is brought forward at upcoming meetings. A sounding board may be ok for some but people want concrete solutions and actions on issues they bring forward. People are stressed about seeing members of their communities struggle and yet there is little or nothing in place to help unless you can travel hours.