The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and the Farming Community | Trillium Mutual Insurance
Category Farm Lifestyle

This is how I normally feel.  It’s only because that happened that I feel this way.  Thoughts like this can minimize the importance of our mental health.  The stigma that surrounds our mental state often pushes people to believe that there is no other way to feel or that it’s not a big deal.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Our mental health plays a huge role in our personal relationships, business ventures and overall physical wellness.

Mental health has quickly become a very prevalent issue around the world as more and more people highlight the important role it plays in our day to day lives.  When our mental health is not managed properly, we can feel the negative impact it has throughout our lives.  When our mental health flourishes we enjoy family & friends more, are more productive at work and overall feel happier and more motivated.  In any one day we can experience a range of emotions and our mental health is extremely important in keeping our lives balanced.

Feelings of stress and anxiety are inevitable especially when you work in a frequently changing environment such as farming.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario the rates of suicide and other mental health related issues are much higher in people who work in the Agricultural Industry compared to others.  Life on the farm can be very rewarding, however, it is often hard for a farmer to take time off or even step back for a day or two.

What are the different types of mental health issues?

There are many different types of mental health issues and their severity will change based on the individual.  Here are just a few of the most common types:

  1. Stress – is the body’s natural reaction to a situation that is uncomfortable. If not managed properly our levels of stress can build up and cause a huge strain on our mental capacity and our ability to
  2. Anxiety & Panic Disorders – often triggered by an individual event or experience. Individuals experiencing this will constantly worry about a number of everyday situations.  This excessive worry can lead to difficulty concentrating, irritability and restless sleep.
  3. Depression – most people feel sad or down in relation to certain life events such as a death in the family. However, people that suffer from depression often have the low times persist much longer.  Depression if left untreated can lead to suppressed or heightened appetite, sleeping too little or too much, feelings of guilt and insignificance and difficulty concentrating.

Any one of these may not be cause for concern on their own, but when left for long enough they can become a much larger issue.  For your health and the health of your loved ones, recognizing that there is help and things can be better is the first step.  Your mental health is part of your overall well being and there are treatment options for when it is suffering.

Farmers are tough, down to earth, resilient people and for most farming is a way of life, not just a job.  They put their work ahead of their own well being most of the time.  Farmers are constantly under enormous amounts of pressure and stress as they work in a very unpredictable industry.  They often are dealing with numerous factors that are outside of their control including severe weather, changing market conditions and managing disease and livestock.

There are many factors, including time and money that are a major part of farming and can create constant demands on farmers. Two of the largest and most unpredictable factors that comes with farming are climate change and financial uncertainty year by year.  In order for most farms to expand and buy new machinery or land, most have to take out different loans.  This can cause huge levels of stress and anxiety when your income stream depends on a variety of factors that can vary every year.  As climate change continues to be an issue and severe weather events increase in frequency the weight on farmer’s shoulders becomes increasingly harder to bear.

How can you recognize that your mental health is suffering?

It is often very hard to diagnose someone with a mental illness without the advice from a licensed physician.  However, there are some behaviours that if they become frequent enough can lead have long term implications on our physical and mental health.

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Excessive anger, fears or hostility
  • Constantly feeling sad or down
  • Constantly sleeping or having low energy
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs
  • Prolonged feelings or irritability or confusion

Knowing the difference between regular behaviour and signs of mental illness isn’t always easy.  These signs and symptoms should serve as a guide to open a dialogue with that person or a health care provider to help manage your mental health.

How can I help people with mental illness?
  • Listen to what they have to say; mirror good listening habits (eye contact, be responsive)
  • Talk about ways to improve their mental health and avoid providing a diagnosis
  • Be supportive and show that you are there to help in whatever ways they need
  • Encourage or offer to help them seek professional advice
Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

Everyone can take small steps to improve their mental health, including:

  • Set goals – doing so helps us make a plan and when we reach those goals we feel fulfilled and accomplished. Short, small wins can greatly boost confidence and well being.
  • Write things down – keeping track of how you feel during the day and how you react to certain events can help our self awareness develop and provide something to reflect on at the end of the day
  • Exercise – whether it’s running outside, lifting weights, playing with kids or grandchildren outside, exercise can be a great stress reliever and mental health break
  • Get Enough Sleep – often times this is easier said than done, but getting between 7 – 9 hours each night can help your brain refresh and recharge
  • Build a strong support network – developing health relationships with friends, family and co-workers can help your confidence & sense of self value. Things such as providing advice, picking someone up from the airport or attending work events can help build experiences and connections

Farmers work in a very volatile environment with limited control over many factors that contribute to the success or failure of their operation.  With long work hours, uncertain weather conditions, machinery problems and financial hardships all working against them.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association rural communities also have limited access to mental health care and resources which places a great strain on farmers, making them more susceptible to mental health issues.

The stigma surrounding mental health, especially in rural communities, is getting better, but needs to be addressed by everyone.  If you know or think you know of someone that is struggling reach out to them and offer a lending hand or even just an ear to listen.  Small actions can make the world of difference to many people.

Through Trillium’s ROOTS Community Fund, we have donated to various organizations that can help individuals struggling with mental illness.  You can find a complete list of all these organizations and the services they provide on our ROOTS Community Fund page.

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