ONE IN FIVE Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime but in farming, the statistic is more like one in two.
As research continues to unveil the prevalence of mental health challenges in agriculture, it becomes clear that the likelihood of your farming relative, colleague, or neighbour struggling with mental health is extremely high.
Adam Chomos, mental health facilitator with Bridges Health in Saskatchewan, says the COVID-19 pandemic could have made a bad situation even worse.
“COVID-19 has introduced a number of new stressors and has taken a toll on the mental health of Canadians,” he says. “The data is still being collected but I suspect that the pandemic has extended mental illness even further beyond the already significant statistics in agriculture.”
Learning to recognize signals of mental health changes is the first step in assessing yourself and supporting those around you. According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and research centre, there are numerous signs that may be noticeable on a day-to-day basis if an individual is experiencing problems.
“Signs are essentially observations that are within our power and control to notice,” explains Chomos. “They are often shifts in performance, behaviour, or mood that are relatively easy to detect.”
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns, changes in mood, difficulty coping with stress or daily activities, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appearance are five common signs that may indicate a change or decline in mental health.
In addition, the person may withdraw from social activities, feel more tired, or have low energy or motivation, express excessive fears, worries, and anxieties, have strange beliefs that are not based in reality or hear or see things that are not actually there.
While these warning signs may aid in evaluating mental health, the CAMH’s “Mental Health 101” online tutorial notes that they are only examples of changes or behaviours that may be cause for concern. It is important not to judge or stereotype people based on these signs or other indicators of mental health.
“If you do notice a shift in someone, one of the most powerful things you can do is reach out and tell them that you have noticed some of these changes starting to take place,” says Chomos.
Approaching the conversation with fact-based, noticeable observations is key. Chomos offers an example of approaching a colleague by saying: “You’re usually the life of the lunch room crew, sharing stories and laughing. Over the last couple of weeks, I have noticed you have been eating alone at your desk. Is everything OK?”
This approach shows the person that you notice them and are alert to the changes they are displaying. If they do happen to be struggling with a mental health problem or illness, this is important because internal stigmas often reflect the belief that nobody is paying attention, he explains.
Many people believe they need to provide wisdom, advice, or a solution when someone they know is struggling, but Chomos says that is not what it means to be supportive.
“When it comes to someone who is going through mental health challenges, it is powerful to listen with the intent to understand, as opposed to listening with the intent to respond,” he says.
Chomos acknowledges that reaching out and communicating noticeable observations can lead to difficult, awkward, and emotionally-charged conversations. If mental health challenges seem to be present and the individual is defensive or in denial, the support person should try to build trust and continue the conversation at a later date.
“Be vulnerable and say that you don’t know what they are experiencing but that you are here to listen, walk with them, and make the call to get the help and support they need,” he says.
Support people should also set a boundary or line in their own mind of when they are confident and competent in supporting the individual and when they will recommend involving the next layer of support, such as making a doctor’s appointment or contacting a community-based resource.
Alternatively, if you notice warning signs in someone but do not feel comfortable in reaching out to them directly, approaching a manager or other people in the person’s life to ask if they have noticed shifts or changes is an appropriate action.
“If you have noticed the signs, there is a good chance that others have too,” says Chomos. “If you can confide that you’re uncomfortable in approaching the individual, maybe someone else will.”
Above all, one of the best ways to help yourself and those in your life with mental health is to learn more about it.
“Knowledge is power and we have the power to increase our own knowledge of topics such as farmer state of mind, the impact of COVID-19 in agriculture, and what organizations and resources are available,” says Chomos. “The more we are able to educate ourselves, the more able we are to connect with and support people who may be struggling.”
There are many ways to learn about mental health, including reading books or articles or attending virtual workshops. Some educational websites include:
- Canadian Mental Health Association National www.cmha.ca
- The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) www.camh.ca
- Mental Health Commission of Canada www.mentalhealthcommission.ca
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