Mental health a serious concern for local farmers, study finds
New research from the University of Guelph shows that mental health in rural and farm communities has taken a hit during the pandemic.
The issue is now being recognized on the farm as the impact of that stress is being felt by family-run operations.
"What am I worried about this week? Well we really would like to get the garlic planted, we really would like to get the corn harvested, but the combine can’t get into the field right now because it’s too mucky," says Teresa van Raay, part-owner of the farm.
The Van Raay family is building a new pig barn on its land in Dashwood near Exeter and she says farmers are increasingly realizing the mental strain is just as tough as the physical labour, with the work never leaving your sight.
"A stresser for me this fall was rain drops hitting a window. It was like you were planning to get things done and as soon as the rain drops hit, you could feel your stomach just tighten up," she said.
Van Raay isn’t the first in the agriculture industry to recognize the issue of stress on the job.
University of Guelph professor Leith Deacon launched research focused on mental health in rural communities during the pandemic.
"The initial results highlighting mental health have been pretty concerning" Deacon said.
An initial survey backed by the County of Huron saw 3,600 respondents.
Deacon says the results show an 80% increase in reported poor mental health.
Now the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) is backing the research for a second round of surveys with $230,000 in funding.
Deacon says so far another 15,000 surveys have been returned and he hopes it can create a database to inform new policies.
"If you own a working farm or are an agriculture producer, at 4:30 or 5 p.m. on a Friday do you close those barns doors and come back on Monday? That’s just not the reality and the programs and policies have to reflect that," Deacon said.
Van Raay says whether it’s a walk or a workout, taboos are changing on the farm when it comes to talking about mental health.
"Sometimes you don’t want to show weakness because we’re very physical on the farm so you want to physically go through everything, but mental health is not physical," said van Raay.
Van Raay hopes new programs can help continue the conversation.