Mental health supports for B.C.’s agriculture industry

Free, confidential mental health supports are available for B.C. farmers, ranchers, and growers affected by extreme weather, wildfires, and the pandemic. 

Photo of farmer in overalls standing beside flood area on field.

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B.C. farmers have been hard hit by the extreme heat dome, COVID-19, and historic rainfall and floods — all occurring within the same year. Many lost all their crops, or were forced to evacuate, leaving their animals behind to wildfire. The impacts are both financial and emotional, and this CBC article reports that farmers made up the bulk of calls to the province’s Mental Health Support Line in December 2021.

“It’s okay to not feel okay. There are things you can do to help you feel better – and there are people who can help you.”

That’s the message from Wendy Bennett, executive director of AgSafe. AgSafe is the health and safety association for B.C.’s agriculture industry. It offers free, confidential, anonymous counselling from mental health practitioners to farmers and their families. It offers services in English and Punjabi. (See AgSafe’s Mental Wellness Resources.)

The counsellors live and work in the agricultural community. Wendy tells me that they have first-hand knowledge of the unique stress farmers face. They know, for example, how stressful it can be to work in a multi-generational agriculture business. “While it’s often a positive experience to work with family, it can also be challenging to meet expectations of parents and grandparents,” says Wendy.

In 2018, Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, of the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, surveyed 1,100 farmers in Canada and found that 68 percent were more susceptible than the general population to chronic stress. She also found that 58 percent met the criteria for anxiety, 45 percent reported high stress, and 35 percent met the criteria for depression. (Here’s a link to more information.)

There’s a lot of hard work that goes into running a farm. “You can be out before sunrise, come in to eat, and then go out again — often staying out long after the sun goes down,” Wendy says.
She describes how the past two years have been especially stressful for people in the industry. “Between COVID, fires and flooding, and the heat dome, losses have been significant.”

Breaking the stigma of mental health challenges

Yet despite recent stressors, many farmers are not comfortable asking for help. Wendy has found that they often keep trying to make things work. “There’s a real reluctance to admit that ‘I’m not okay.’ We’re working hard to break that stigma, but it has existed for a really long time. We hope anyone struggling will reach out before they get to the breaking point.”

AgSafe has partnered with Avail, a personal well-being assistant app, which is another way to connect directly with mental health professionals and access resources related to mental health and wellness. The app is available online, the Google Play Store, and the Apple App Store. (Use “AgSafe BC” as your organization name when signing up.)

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, please contact 911 or the B.C. Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-800-SUICIDE. Please know you are not alone. Help is available.

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