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New farmer mental health literacy course

New farmer mental health literacy course

In the Know aims to increase knowledge, confidence, and helping behaviours around mental health issues in the ag community 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Farmers across Ontario will soon be able to access mental health programming specifically targeted toward the agricultural community.

The University of Guelph, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) are collaborating to deliver In the Know, a mental health literacy program for Canadian farmers and their families.

Dr. Briana Hagen and Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, researchers in the department of population medicine at the University of Guelph, have been developing the program since 2017, Hagen told Farms.com.

“It’s been a labour of love for years now and Andria and I are just over the moon that there were good partnership opportunities,” she said. Hagen and Jones-Bitton did the research, development, and testing of the program, and CMHA and OFA are helping with dissemination.

“It’s been a very collaborative process,” Michael Feenstra, branch relations lead for CMHA Ontario, told Farms.com. “We’ve all got a shared goal of improving the mental health awareness and resilience of farmers.”

The organizations want to “foster a conversation and open a dialogue (about) issues that are prevalent and impact not only of farmers but also their families and the broader agricultural community,” he added.

The goals of In the Know are to “increase general mental health knowledge, to increase confidence for participants in talking about mental health with others and with recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health struggle in others, and the last objective is to increase confidence in helping behaviours,” Hagen explained.

In the Know will help farmers recognize peers to ask if they’re having trouble with their mental health, but also teach participants “what do you do when they say ‘yes?’” she added.

“What’s unique about In the Know is that all of that is taught though a farming lens. All of the examples, all of the resources, all of the tips and tricks that we teach in that class are all based on real-life farm scenarios,” Hagen said.

This lens is key, because mental health challenges are “unique for farmers,” she explained. “Signs and symptoms look a lot different for a farmer than they would for someone who works in an office setting or lives in the city. And in terms of resources, where you help people get resources or how you help them when they tell you they’re struggling, that’s wildly different for a farming population.”

In the Know is “an awareness program because it is a relatively short, 4-hour session, meant to be that way to be able to get to farmers,” Feenstra explained. “We want something that gets them information quickly, fits the schedule and the rigour, and also has the real agricultural lens and relevancy for the ag community.”

For rural populations “access to resources is still a big problem, that doesn’t change with knowing more about the resources,” she added. However knowing about specifically tailored or online resources “can really help in a more crisis situation, to know that there are resources that are available to you, or to know there are folks who understand what it means to be experiencing a mental health crisis as a farmer.”

To date almost 30 staff at 16 CMHA branches across the province have undergone training for the In the Know program, Feenstra said.

“Whoever is delivering the program has to have a certification as a counselor or a psychotherapist or a psychologist, they must have that educational background (and) trauma-informed training,” Hagen explained. “Plus (instructors) also must come from an agricultural background.”

CMHA “branches will be working closely with their OFA collogues locally and determining how best and when best to deliver the program to their local community,” Feenstra said.

Farmers should stay tuned for more information on when to expect programs to be delivered in their area “and if people are really interested or really want the information to contact their local CMHA branch or OFA representative,” he added.

The pilot program and rollout in other regions has been promising, Hagen said.

“The pilot study showed that (In the Know) was efficacious for participants, they significantly improved their general mental health knowledge, confidence and helping behaviours and that remained true at the three month and six month post-training follow-up,” she explained.

Manitoba rolled out the program in January, delivered through Keystone Agricultural Producers. Nova Scotia and Alberta are also beginning to deliver the program. Recently, materials were translated into French.

“I think folks can look forward to it being available in almost every province,” Hagen added.

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