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Helping your farm employees manage mental health

Anyone can struggle with mental health issues – including farm employees. As farm operators and managers, supporting staff through tough times can have a positive effect for the employee, as well as the business. 
 
Even as the world learns to manage the stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a place for farm management to offer support to employees.
 
Asking is tough – but you can do it
 
Adelle Stewart is executive director of Do More Ag, a national charity advocating and offering resources focused on mental health for Canada’s agriculture sector.
 
Decreased employee performance may be a sign of mental health struggles.
She says a decrease in employee performance can be a sign of mental health struggles – or another issue – and farm operators can open the conversation by using the “rule-out rule.” That means ruling out whether the employee is suffering psychologically before attempting to correct performance through other means.
 
“From a high level, have a fact-based conversation,” Stewart says. “Address concerns and let them know you can try and help if there is an issue.”
 
She adds, accessing medical resources is a personal decision on the part of anyone struggling with mental health issues. 
 
“It’s not up to employers to direct medical care. Don’t say ‘you should...’ Just ask if you can help and point them in the direction of resources. It could be as simple as pointing towards Do More Ag’s website.”
 
Proactive action makes good business sense
 
Anne, a grain farmer and beef rancher in Saskatchewan, has experience with employees struggling with mental health matters. To protect the privacy of her employees, she asked that her full name not be used.
 
She says while broaching the subject of mental health as an employer can be difficult and intimidating, doing so – and taking the time to listen if employees try to communicate first – has been very helpful on her farm. But as a farm operator, she feels like she’s blazing a trail.
 
“This conversation is very new to us,” Anne says. “Not everyone on our farm management team is comfortable talking about it.”
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