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FINDING THE LIGHT: How mental health advocate and hog farmer survived the dark days of COVID

LISTOWEL — Stewart Skinner has made no bones about reaching the brink of suicide in December 2012. The sixth-generation hog farmer didn’t go through with hanging himself in the barn that day. Instead, he reached out for help. He’s been a public advocate for farmer mental health ever since.

But COVID restrictions took a heavy toll. In January, 2022, he tweeted in part: “I watched the prosperity my partner and I had built since 2015 evaporate as COVID shutdowns and shipping delays derailed our supply chain and caused massive financial losses… paid therapy became such a negative trigger that I was worse off after an appointment than going in. I was sick, I was angry.

“People are made extremely uncomfortable by hearing stark truth about what goes on in the mind of a mentally ill person. Sure they happily tweet a hashtag but if you confront them with a personal lived experience that challenges their own world view they are no longer interested in your story.”

He added : “They don’t want to hear about how I was scared to walk by the stairs holding an infant child because of the voices that crept into my head telling me to toss the child over the railing. They want the good but not the ugly.”

Last year, as the pandemic retreated into the rearview mirror, Skinner wrote an article highlighting how the policies of the COVID era returned him to a dark place mentally — by pounding his business and cutting off access to people — his basketball buddies, his church community and the local greasy spoon. “Over the past two years, I have watched the model I constructed to keep my resilience up be torn apart, ironically, in the name of keeping me safe,” Skinner wrote in the Canadian Hog Journal in April 2022.

With an additional year of hindsight, Farmers Forum recently asked Skinner about the pandemic’s toll and his recovery.

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