Industry reps and gov’t officials look to improve farmers’ well-being
By Kaitlynn Anderson
Members of the House of Common’s standing committee on agriculture and agri-food have taken another step to address mental health in the industry.
Yesterday, the group held the first session for its study, Mental Health Challenges that Canadian Farmers, Ranchers and Producers Face.
The committee welcomed Michael Hoffort, president and CEO of Farm Credit Canada (FCC), and Tom Rosser, assistant deputy minister of the strategic policy branch at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The pair discussed the initiatives that companies and the government undertake to address mental health challenges in agriculture.
Both witnesses touched on the unique nature of the industry.
“We know that farming can be unpredictable when the difference between profit and financial loss for producers often depends on several factors, some well beyond their control,” Hoffort told the committee. “The reality is that things don’t always go as planned. (This) can have serious impacts on farmers’ operations, and perhaps even their emotional and mental wellbeing.”
The speakers discussed some of the programs that FCC and the Government of Canada offer to help farmers manage the stress related to this volatility.
For example, FCC has an Ag Crisis Fund, which provides financial support to producers who face disasters, including floods, tornados, barn and house fires, deaths of family members, and farm accidents, Hoffort said.
“Last year, we reached out to 287 customers impacted by crisis,” he said. “Two of those cases involved suicides. This year, that number has risen to eight cases so far.
AAFC has worked to tackle these issues through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.
“Provinces can use the financial aid provided by these programs to directly support mental health initiatives in the industry,” Rosser said.
Producers can also utilize business risk management programs to “manage major risks that threaten the viability of their farms,” he told the committee.
Even though healthcare falls under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has taken action, too.
“In Budget 2017, the government earmarked $5 billion over ten years for the provinces and territories (to) improve access to mental health and addiction services,” Rosser said.
Despite its ongoing efforts, the industry needs to do more for farm families facing mental health challenges, both experts noted.
“Farmers, ranchers and producers are the backbone of the Canadian agriculture and agri-food sector,” Rosser said. “We all need to work together to take further action on this important issue by improving awareness, reducing risk factors, improving access to quality mental health services and eliminating the stigma often associated with mental illness.”
During the question period, attendees discussed such topics as mental health counseling, research and the opioid crisis.
The committee also talked about how other professions have handled the topic of mental health.
For example, first responders and members of the military, who previously faced challenges around mental health, now openly talk about issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, Allstair Macgregor, an MP from British Columbia, said.
“People are encouraged to seek help,” he said.
The ag industry could look to the Department of National Defence and Public Safety Canada to learn how they assisted people in these professions. But, of course, some key differences exist between the military, first responders, and the ag industry.
“I think one main difference is that those environments depend on teams (and) colleagues need to have the full support of each other, whereas farmers are often out by themselves,” Macgregor said.
To talk with a professional from Crisis Services Canada, call 1-833-456-4566 (or 1-866-277-3553 for Quebec residents) or text 45645. You can also chat online.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911 immediately.
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