By Jonathan Martin
The House of Commons’ standing committee on agriculture and agri-food tabled a report on Tuesday about the mental health challenges Canadian farmers, ranchers and producers face.
The report, which was over a year in the making, is titled Mental health: A priority for our farmers. The government will use it to formulate a “comprehensive response” to what researchers describe as the “red zone” of anxiety in which a “disproportionately high” number of farmers live.
Mental health: A priority for our farmers includes 10 recommendations to help prevent the onset of mental health problems in Canadian farmers and better support those individuals who face these challenges.
The recommendations include:
· Making audits and labour reviews less stressful for farmers
· Considering the effects regulatory changes have on producers
· Combatting cyber bullying in the ag sector and making “intimidation or cyberbullying” targeted at any group of Canadians based on their occupation or place of residence a criminal offense
· Accelerating the deployment of high-speed Internet in rural areas
· Tailoring mental health care and insurance to farmers’ needs
· Educating ag industry stakeholders in mental health
· Educating farmers in mental health
· Funding ag-specific mental health services
· Coordinating research into farmers’ mental health
· Developing help lines for farmers in remote areas
During his presentation, Pat Finnigan, chair of the committee, told the House of Commons that “this non-partisan study is probably one of the most important studies we have ever done.”
The committee’s official opposition produced a supplementary report, which “agreed with the report as a whole,” but recommended adding content.
“We produced supplementary opinions because we believe the report should go further,” Luc Berthold, speaking on behalf of the opposition, told the House. “Particularly, to reflect a lot of testimony with regard to the urgency of the problem, as well as the need for action on several fronts, such as public education, social media attacks and the harmful impact that government decisions can have on farmers' mental health and stress levels.
“Furthermore, the committee had an opportunity to take a stand on a measure that has been a direct cause of significant stress for Canada's farmers. I am referring to the carbon tax. One of the recommendations in the report is to scrap it immediately to remove a stress factor for farmers across the country,” he added.
The standing committee developed its report with input from 58 witnesses from the ag industry, written briefs from five ag organizations, committee members’ policy discussion papers and earlier research.
Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, Canada’s leading researcher into farmers’ mental health, presented some of her findings to the committee on Sept. 27, 2018.
“Forty-five per cent of our farmers scored in the high stress category,” she told the committee. “Fifty-eight per cent met the scale's definition for anxiety, and 35 per cent met the definition for depression. Burnout was also a concern in our farmers. Burnout is measured on three subscales: high emotional exhaustion, high cynicism and low professional efficacy. Finally, resilience is a state of being that promotes wellness and decreases the impacts of stress.
“Unfortunately, two-thirds of our farmers scored lower than the U.S. general population” on resilience.
Now that the committee has tabled the report, the department of agriculture and agri-food will table a response to the recommendations on either July 17 or Aug. 21, unless the House of Commons dissolves first, Ariane Gagné-Frégeau, clerk of the standing committee on agriculture and agri-food told Farms.com. The department of agriculture and agri-food is already working on a response, so it is likely that the response will be tabled this summer, she added.
Farms.com will provide updates as the story develops.