by Brent Royce, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Loss has the power to shake a whole community. Like a pebble in a pond, the waves ripple across the water and the effects can be felt by everyone near. In rural communities, when someone is lost to suicide, a direct impact is felt by many people. From nearby family and friends, to neighbours and acquaintances, to stakeholders across the entire sector, suicide has the power to send shockwaves and cripple a community.
My community has recently said goodbye to members who have lost their lives to suicide. This has left everyone feeling shocked, sad, and wishing there was more that could have been done. Now more than ever, farmers feel the stress of pushing through everyday personal issues, coping with the loneliness of living remotely, and feeling the pressure to maintain a business with so many changing protocols stemming from the pandemic.
Oftentimes, we see farmers push their mental health to the backburner. Our custom as farmers is to take care and prioritize our livestock, crops and families first. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that talking about our mental health struggles makes us weak or less of a farmer. Yes, our community is strong and resilient, but we are not superhuman. We need to work collectively to end this stigma. For those struggling with mental health, having someone to talk to may be the key to saving their life.
As we continue into this new year, we are seeing too many lives being lost to mental health. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) believes that now, more than ever, it’s time to break down the farmer stereotypes and bring conversations about suicidal thoughts and feelings to the forefront.
People experiencing suicidal thoughts are often in great mental anguish and believe the world around them would be better without their presence. They start believing they are a burden and slowly begin losing faith in themselves. Without proper resources and services in place, many are left to deal with their dark thoughts alone – and during a pandemic, those who are most vulnerable are at serious risk.
As we proceed through another demanding year, the focus on work ethic and striving for consistency in a world that’s currently unstable can result in missing warning signs of stress and burnout, which can leave farmers both physically and mentally depleted. It can also be difficult to separate our identity as a person from that of a farmer, which makes setbacks in the farm business feel personally devastating.
In the past few weeks, my daughter has been collecting data from farmers on mental health for a school survey as a grade 12 project. Out of 239 participants, 80.8% stated they believe there continues to be a stigma around mental health, while 32.2% said they are uncomfortable discussing the topic with others. This stigma prevents farmers from seeking out and obtaining appropriate resources. These results suggest that further conversations, acceptance, support and guidance are still needed so people don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed when they’re struggling. The Farmers’ Toolbox initiative in my region features testimonials in video clips that tell the story of farmers moving from hopelessness to reaching the point of seeking help. Resources like this one, created by the Listowel Agricultural Society, help put a face on this crucial topic.
Deciding to ask for help is only the first step. Many rural communities feel secluded from the necessary supports and services. My daughter’s study showed that 34.7% of farmers were not sure if there were resources available to them, and 17.2% believed they did not have access to mental health resources.
OFA wants to ensure you and your loved ones have the resources necessary to cope with struggles and crises to help prevent more lives from being lost. If you or someone you know is in distress and needs help, there are people and resources available. Please reach out for 24/7 support by calling the Ontario Mental Health Line at ConnexOntario. Reach them at 1-866-531-2600, or use their online chat function. For additional resources, visit the ConnexOntario website, or ofa.on.ca/mental-health.
A loss can devastate an entire community, but it can also help bring perspective about how and when to open up about these important conversations. If you or someone you know is struggling, we encourage you to please seek help today. There is always a reason to keep moving forward. Just know that you are valued, loved and not alone.