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University of Guelph conducting additional mental health research

Some programs could be in place within the next two to three years

By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content

A team from the Ontario Veterinary College is furthering research into mental health and how it impacts farmers and others in the ag community.

Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine, and some of her colleagues are part of a group called AWAR2E (Advancement of Wellness and Resilience in Research and Education).

“(We saw) growing anecdotal evidence that our colleagues [AG1] are not doing so well in terms of their wellness and resilience, and that some farmers may also be facing challenges with respect to the many stresses they face,” Jones-Bitton said in a university release.

In the fall of 2015, Jones-Bitton conducted a survey of more than 1,000 producers across Canada to gain an understanding of the potential stresses farmers face.

Early analysis of the data shows many respondents feel stressed.

“One thing I think that’s not overly surprising but is the high number of participants categorized as having high stress,” Jones-Bitton told in an interview.

Jones-Bitton says the word ‘stress’ isn’t taken as seriously anymore due to its common usage in conversation.

“It’s easy to forget the health impacts of stress,” she said. “High levels of stress can lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease and death. We need to be taking stress more seriously.”

Beginning this spring, AWAR2E will work on a series of initiatives to provide farmers with the tools they need to recognize and manage mental health issues. Jones-Bitton said ag organizations and OMAFRA are getting involved and providing financial support.

One project is designing a mental health literacy program specifically for agriculture.

Jones-Bitton said the material will teach participants about common mental health issues, learning to recognize signs, opening up conversations with people who may be struggling and bridging those people to support.

Another initiative the group will work on is developing an emergency response model.

“When agricultural crises like livestock disease, extreme weather or barn fires hit, we can proactively respond to producer mental health during that time,” Jones-Bitton said.

She said the programs could be rolled out in the next two to three years but will said the group provide updates along the way.

Jan. 25 is recognized as Bell Lets Talk Day. For each social media post with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, Bell will donate five cents to mental health initiatives.

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