Farmers need and want mental health resources, U of G researcher says
By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content
A University of Guelph researcher wants Ontario producers, veterinarians and other members of the ag community to chat with her about mental health.
Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor in the University of Guelph’s Department of Population Medicine, has been studying the mental health of farmers for the past two years.
She found that 45 per cent of respondents had high stress in her national survey of more than 1,100 people in ag between September 2015 and January 2016.
“The sense I got from that study are that many producers feel there isn’t enough support available and resources can be hard to access,” she told Farms.com today.
Now she’s focusing her research on members of Ontario’s agricultural community through a series of one-on-one interviews and surveys.
“The interviews help producers explore their own mental health,” Jones-Bitton said. “They explore how mental health impacts their farms, families, livestock, crops and businesses.
“We’ve also (interviewed) people who have experienced poor mental health or have undergone a crisis like a disease outbreak, barn fire or extreme weather.”
To date, Jones-Bitton and her team have completed about 20 interviews. Their work will continue for the next couple of weeks.
She plans to expand these interviews and surveys to other parts of Canada.
The interviews represent the first part of Phase 2 of the overall mental health research project.
The second part of Phase 2 will create a national strategy for mental health literacy for farmers.
“We realized many people in agriculture didn’t feel comfortable talking about mental health,” Jones-Bitton said. “Part of what we’re doing is developing a national mental health literacy program that’s specific to agriculture so people in the industry will know about mental health and how to open up conversations on the subject.”
Farmers, social workers, psychologists are part of the team developing the national program, she said.
Interviewee’s willingness to chat with researchers shows the perceived stigma associated with mental health is shifting, says Jones-Bitton.
“Traditionally, perhaps (mental health) has been something producers haven’t been ‘allowed’ to talk abou, but, recently, people well-respected within their agricultural communities are talking about mental health challenges,” she said.
The one-on-one interviews take between 45 and 60 minutes and the surveys can take up to 10 minutes.
Anyone interested in participating can contact Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton (519-824-4120 ext. 54786) or Briana Hagen (306-381-8927).
Participants could also receive a $100 honorarium.