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Exploring the Connection between Mental Health and Farm Business Management

OTTAWA -- Over the past year, Farm Management Canada has been working with Wilton Consulting Group on ground-breaking research that seeks to explore the connection between Mental Health and Farm Business Management. The findings from this research reveal a positive correlation between mental health and farm business management and inform recommendations to support farm business management activities that positively influence farmer mental health as well as mental health supports that positively influence farm business management activities.
 
Stress is the personal, emotional response to external factors, or stressors. When stressed, farmers reported several changes in behaviour to try and cope with stress. Most farmers reported undesirable coping mechanisms that may contribute to poor mental health including working more hours and losing sleep, attending social or family gatherings less, and feeling less in control of their emotions. However, some farmers reported more frequent management behaviours like focusing more on financial numbers and assessing or planning for alternative outcomes when stressed.
 
Employing business management practices can help farmers get through tough times such as market crashes or crop failures. Among farmers who use written business plans, 88% claim that it has contributed to peace of mind. Outcomes of the project reaffirm findings of other recent research and add new insights into the ways that farm business management can be supported in ways that contribute to farmer mental health.
 
There is an opportunity to enhance education around the benefits of business planning with a focus on mitigating risk. Further, building support teams to help provide advice can alleviate some of the burdens of decision-making. When difficulties arise, it helps to know that a team of peers, family members and/or advisors has thought through different challenges and weighed in on a course of action. Further education and re-positioning the concept of the farm business plan and farm business team can help farmers see business management and planning as both a way to prepare for uncertain times and a source of guidance when facing difficult circumstances.
 
The report concludes with four themes that capture how Farm Management Canada and the agricultural industry at large can better support farmer mental health in Canada:
  1. Continue raising awareness around stresses and the impact of mental health for farmers
  2. Support mental health literacy for farmers and those supporting farmers
  3. Deliver business management advice, tools and training that focuses on risk management and preparedness as a means of facing uncertainty.
  4. Advocate for farmer-specific mental health support services. 
24 distinct recommendations are explained further within the Full Report. These research findings are critical for informing government policy, resource allocation, and business management and mental health service providers in supporting healthy farmers and healthy farm businesses for a prosperous and sustainable agricultural sector.
Source : Farm Management Canada