Under pressure

HOW FARMERS CAN RELIEve MENTAL STRESS

IF FARMERS FIND THEMSELVES WITHDRAWING OR NOT BOTHERING TO DO ROUTINE CHORES, IT MIGHT BE TIME TO ASK FOR HELP.

FINDING MENTAL HEALTH services when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be very difficult, especially if you’re a grain farmer in a rural part of the province. There are, however, strategies for getting help, according to Jenni Jenkins.

Jenkins is a registered social worker who has a private counselling practice in Sarnia. Her family has a grain farm in the Forest-Warwick area.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

  • If farmers find themselves withdrawing or not bothering to do routine chores, it might be time to ask for help.
  • There are both public and private practitioners.
  • There is a whole range of services — from psychiatrists to psychologists, therapists, social workers, counsellors, and psychotherapists that can provide help.
  • Some school boards have social workers, child and youth counsellors, and psychologists on staff that may support a family with school-aged children.

UNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS

Jenkins says that normal life is stressful enough, and farming is especially so, since there’s so much dependence on the whims of the markets and nature.

She says that noticing changes in normal behaviour — whether it’s yourself, friends, or family — is a good indicator that something is wrong.

For example, if farmers find themselves withdrawing or not bothering to do routine chores such as grocery shopping or taking time for regular exercise, it might be time to ask for help.

“You need to keep tabs on what others are saying around you — if they tell you you’re being ‘snappy’ lately or you find yourself slamming cupboard doors — these are other indicators,” she says.

There are many other signs and everyone reacts differently to stress, but Jenkins says that the most important thing to do is to reach out.

“You need a space where you feel safe and can vent out loud what you’re feeling,” she says, adding that getting an outside professional to listen can take the pressure off friends and family who have their own worries and stresses.

OVERCOMING RELUCTANCE

Farmers are notoriously independent and slow to ask for help, but Jenkins says that treating the therapist like any other professional service provider, such as an agronomist or veterinarian, might be a way for some to get over their reluctance.

“All you have to do is show up as you are,” she says, adding that practitioners are trained to ask the right questions, find out what’s wrong, and help clients work through their issues.

“Trust that they can do their job.”

Jenkins notes that while she has a farming background, it’s not a prerequisite for therapists to be able to empathize.

She points out that there are both public and private practitioners.

FREE SERVICES

Jenkins says that while the public option — through the Canadian Mental Health Association, for example — is good and widely available across the province, there are often long wait times to obtain appointments. In some cases, adult clients also need to have a diagnosed or diagnosable problem, be it depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or suicidal thoughts.

“For many farmers, the idea of going into a mental health office, sitting in a packed waiting room, getting an intake meeting, and finding out they have to wait for six weeks or two months to be treated makes them run the other way,” she says.

Still, families use these services because they are free and regulated, with professionals who know what they’re doing.

Talking to the family doctor or nurse practitioner is also an option, Jenkins says. If a farmer is comfortable enough, there are medical clinics in various parts of the province that have registered social workers or psychologists on staff. Their services are covered by the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Some school boards have social workers, child and youth counsellors, and psychologists on staff that may support a family with school-aged children.

All mental health service providers are vigilant in getting seriously ill or suicidal people the crisis services they need.

UNDERSTANDING THE OPTIONS

If the public route is not an option, looking for private sector services online can present an overwhelming amount of information.

First, there is a whole range of services — from psychiatrists to psychologists, therapists, social workers, counsellors, and psychotherapists — and people don’t know what they should actually be looking for. Second, the fees that are charged can seem expensive. Generally, psychologists and social workers charge between $100 and $200 an hour, depending on the circumstances.

Jenkins says that the more education and experience the service provider has, the more expensive he or she will likely be. She cautions that, as with many services, higher fees don’t necessarily guarantee the highest quality.

But there are advantages.

“In private practice, there may be less of a wait list or none at all, and you have a chance to speak to or read about the therapist to find out if he or she is a good fit,” she says. If things don’t work out, these practitioners have a whole network of professionals for referrals.

There are also non-profit organizations that provide family counselling services with fees that are on sliding scales. Families with extended health insurance policies may have coverage for private services.

In this day and age of connectivity, online video and phone counselling are also gaining momentum. Jenkins works with a company who sends her online clients from across Ontario.

She says getting help doesn’t necessarily result in a diagnosis of mental illness — in fact, most of the time, just having the opportunity to talk to a different person without fear of being judged or hurting someone is enough.

ONLINE VIDEO AND PHONE COUNSELLING ARE GAINING MOMENTUM.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is supporting farmers’ mental health through a number of programs, including research to evaluate mental health needs for farmers, encouraging farmers to practice self-care, and offering stress mitigation resources for farmers.

The ministry launched a spring planting mental health video campaign which featured information and advice from farmers and leaders in the agriculture sector. The videos were posted to the OMAFRA Twitter account @OMAFRA and the ministry website www.omafra.gov.on.ca.

The video series was part of a broader, agriculture-focused mental-health awareness effort that was launched at the beginning of the year. In addition to social media, the ministry is reaching out to farmers through roundtable discussions with Minister Ernie Hardeman.

The focus on farmer mental health is part of the Ontario government’s commitment to invest $1.9 billion over the next 10 years to develop and implement a comprehensive and connected mental health and addictions strategy. •