The Farmers’ Toolbox provides a list of local, provincial and national resources
By Diego Flammini
A new website launched recently to help members of the Ontario ag community access mental health resources they may need.
The Farmers’ Toolbox, which went online Oct. 9, provides visitors with lists of local, provincial and national mental health programs. The website also links to podcasts and features videos of ag community members sharing their experiences with mental health challenges.
“The Listowel Agricultural Society started this project a few years ago,” Alanna Coneybeare, a dairy, poultry and cash crop producer from Perth County, told Farms.com. “Our target audience is Ontario, but we do have some resources specific to Perth and Huron Counties to reflect the support we received from the community.”
Coneybeare is a volunteer on the society’s ambassador committee and helped bring the project to fruition.
The ag society received a grant from RBC in 2018, which it used to hold a larger fundraiser.
“We talked about how to have this donation make the greatest impact for the people in our community,” Coneybeare said. “It’s a fact that, as farmers, access to mental health resources can be a challenge, and we wanted to address that.”
The Dinner on Tremaine, held in June 2019, raised almost $14,000 for the ag society to use to further the online project.
Farmers tend to be more at risk of stress than the general public.
A University of Guelph survey of 1,100 producers from 2015 and 2016 showed that 45 per cent of respondents had high stress and 35 per cent suffered from depression.
Another 40 per cent said they’d worry about what their peers thought if they knew a fellow producer was seeking mental health help.
A full-time farmer herself, Coneybeare understands the need for mental health supports.
“I’m in a job that is quite difficult, and I do need to have mental health tools to stay resilient and manage the stresses of the job,” she said. “These kinds of tools are lacking in our community, and it became obvious this is something that needed our attention.”
Coneybeare’s openness about needing mental health support is representative of an overall change about how the industry discusses the issue.
Ag community members have made strides over the years about recognizing their own mental health challenges and being transparent about them, she said.
“We are shifting towards normalizing mental health,” she said. “I think even 10 years ago, the conversations were very different. I don’t think we’re there yet in terms of having those conversations once someone has expressed having a mental illness. I think we’re still more comfortable talking about physical illness compared to mental illness, but the more we talk about mental health, the easier it can become.”
Producers may not be prepared to open up about mental health challenges, but recognizing he or she has one is an important first step, Coneybeare said.
“You should congratulate yourself for being self-aware,” she said. “There are so many times when we might internalize that struggle and bear the stressors alone.”