Mental health affects each and every one of us, impacting how we feel, think, and interact with others. Like our physical health, our mental health isn’t fixed or static – instead, it can be influenced by a range of factors within and around us, including our experiences, workplaces, and the array of social and economic conditions that make and shape our lives.
Jones-Bitton et al., National Farmer Survey of Mental Health
For farmers, the unique challenges associated with owning and operating a farm are well documented. Add to that the additional stresses of COVID-19, a lack of access to mental health services in many rural communities, and a lack of understanding about agriculture by many mental health service providers, and mental health challenges for farmers are often compounded, leading to high rates of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Enter In the Know – a four-hour mental health literacy workshop designed specifically to build mental health knowledge and increase help-seeking among farmers and the wider agricultural community in Ontario. Developed by a stakeholder team of experts led by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and Dr. Briana Hagen at the Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph), with support from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, In the Know was launched for delivery through the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario in March 2021, with a funding support announcement from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs following in September 2021.
“In the Know is meant for farmers and anyone they have regular contact with, including family members and others working in agriculture, such as veterinarians, breeders, seed or feed salespeople, and community members,” says Jade Irons, Advancement and Corporate Partnerships Lead at the CMHA Ontario. “It was designed to be able to accommodate farmers’ rigid daily schedules and distill critical mental health information through an agricultural community-specific lens.”
In the Know weaves real-life farming examples into its curriculum and is delivered by certified CMHA mental health professionals who, in most cases, will have close ties to and understanding of farming lifestyles. If that is not the case, the mental health professionals are paired with a co-facilitator from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
“The workshop delivers farmer-centric content on topics such as stress, depression, anxiety, substance use, and how to start a conversation around mental well-being,” says Irons. “Its goal is not to train people on how to be a counsellor or treat those they interact with, but to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and wellness, create comfort in having conversations about it and reduce some of the stigma.”
In the fall of 2021, the Gay Lea Foundation approved a $25,000 grant to CMHA Ontario to help the organization reach over 2,560 farmers across Ontario in the first year of the In the Know program (2022) and eventually expand the workshop to reach every farmer in Ontario. In appreciation for that support, a special session of In the Know was coordinated for Gay Lea Foods’ delegates, directors, and producer-directors of the Gay Lea Foundation in early April.
“We all have a loved one we would like to be able to better support in their mental health journey,” says delegate Jennifer Bryson, who participated in the workshop. “In the Know helps build understanding and knowledge to assist others.”
“Everyone experiences periods of positive and negative mental health throughout their life,” adds director Gerald Schipper, who also participated. “Its important to be able to recognize when you, or others, might be struggling and to understand what you can do to try to find balance and promote positive mental health.”
Farmers interested in learning more about the In the Know program are encouraged to contact their local CMHA branch or Lindsay Bebbington at email@example.com. There are also several other supports available for the agriculture community, including the Farmer Wellness Initiative, which provides 24/7 access to free counselling sessions with a mental health professional.
If you’re living with a mental health condition or experiencing a period of poor mental health, there are a wide range of services and programs available to help. Visit www.ontario.cmha.ca to find resources or reach out to ConnexOntario, which provides 24/7 access to information on mental health and addictions services in to Ontario.
About the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario
Founded in 1952, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario, is a non-profit, charitable organization committed to making mental health possible for all.
CMHA Ontario achieves its mission by being a leader in the evolution of Ontario’s mental health and addictions system, and contributing knowledge, resources and skills to provincial policy development and implementation. They are a dedicated partner within the network of Canadian Mental Health Associations at the national, provincial, and local level, and work closely with its 28 local branches in communities across the province to ensure the utilization of best practices in the organization, management and delivery of services to consumers and families of individuals with mental illnesses, dual diagnosis and concurrent disorders.