A Made in Alberta Response to Farm Mental Health

Update from the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network, Resolution E1-19

The Alberta Farm Mental Health Network (Network) continues to push forward and explore the rural landscape of mental health supports. Since our last update we have met with over 25 different associations, government programs, private mental health practitioners, researchers, media and even some farmers. The outpouring of support from the farming community and the enthusiastic response from those delivering services in the industry has been heartwarming.

Through our conversations a few themes have started to surface and are informing the whitepaper on farm mental health that is under development. There seem to be three types of mental health interventions being funded and offered, and we feel all three need to be considered from a farm culture perspective to provide a well-functioning system.

The first type of services target prevention and promotes good mental health. These services focus on education and media campaigns that reduce stigma, encourage healthy habits and point people to where they can get services when needed. Programs like:

  1. In the Know, a mental health literacy program designed for Canadian farmers and facilitated by people with farm backgrounds, and
  2. Sustainable Farm Families, physical and mental health assessments and education delivered by the Alberta Farm Safety Centre, and
  3. Do More Ag, a farm focused mental health not for profit association that offers programs and workshops that support the mental health of farm families.

A flier called Building Farm Mental Health Capacity in Your Community has been created by the network and is available for anyone to download on our website. The flier was recently distributed through the FCSSAA and the Rural Mental Health Network to encourage mental health animators in rural communities to build capacity to support their local farming community.

The second type of service responds to crisis. Alberta Health Services, Victim Services, RCMP and crisis/hot lines are Alberta’s rural responders for mental health crisis.  Farmers however are less likely to reach out for crisis support if they think that the responder will not understand their situation.  Providing a dedicated farm crisis line staffed by people who understand farming removes this barrier.  There are a few initiatives that are responding to this call for service:

  1. Do More Ag announced in August that it is working to create a national farm mental health crisis line called AgTalk. Do More Ag has an excellent presence in farm media and has become a obvious place for farmers to reach out for support. Their idea is to have a national Farm Crisis Line that links into local provincial resources and they are actively pursuing financing and logistics to make this happen. In the meantime they are compiling a listing of mental health service on the Find Support section of their website.
  2. CMHA manages several hotlines, including the 211-service referral line which has recently been expanded to cover the whole province.  They have the hotline infrastructure and referral lists and so we connected them with Do More Ag to talk about the AgTalk initiative.  For now, CMHA has committed to training their responders with the AgCulture course so that responders on the 211 and other hotlines will be better equipped to help farmers that use their services, and talks with Do More Ag will continue.

The Alberta Farm Mental Health Network continues to look for ways to provide a dedicated Farm Crisis line which would address the concerns in ASB Resolution E1-19: Access to Agriculture Specific Mental Health Resources. Resolution E1-19 asks for a fully resourced 24/7 farm specific crisis line. While the resolution has not been successful, conversations between the Network and not for profits offer hope that things are moving in the right direction.     

Outpatient in community or on farm supports work best for farmers who often don’t have the option of taking time off

The final type of service needed for a well-functioning mental health system is affordable and available psychotherapy in line with farm culture. Currently these specialized service providers are few and far between, however we are encouraged by the number of registered service providers that come from farm backgrounds and are open to the idea of targeting their services to farm clients. Outpatient in community or on farm supports work best for farmers who often don’t have the option of taking time off.

Alberta is not alone in the response to farmer mental health. The Guelph Statement that sets the vision for the Ag Policy Framework negotiations between the provinces and the federal government identifies “empowering produces… to care for their mental health” as an important factor to achieve reliance and public trust in our Canadian food production system. 

Ontario did not wait for the new Ag Policy Framework to be negotiated, and instead announced a $7 Million investment in three farm mental health supports for their farmers. Ontario farmers will have the advantage of 4 free psychotherapy sessions, expansion of the delivery of the “In the Know” mental health literacy course and a Guardians program that provides on farm support. In addition, they announced $430,000 directed to farm mental health survey and research work to support the ongoing efforts of the researchers at the University of Guelph. PEI and Quebec have been supporting on farm mental health supports for many years, and work is underway in Manitoba to provide free access to psychotherapy sessions for their farmers.

Some of the ways the work of the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network is influencing the Alberta farm mental health mandate include: 

  1. Creating a whitepaper on Farm Mental Health to inform the next Ag Policy Framework negotiations
  2. Building awareness in the mental health service community of the unique needs of farmers and promote the AgCulture course to improve how they align with farm culture.
  3. Reaching out to psychotherapy practices with farm connections and encouraging them to connect and market services to farmers and farm communities.
  4. Connecting service providers who are looking for ways to reach out to farming communities with local mental health animators through the Rural Mental Health Network, FCSSAA and our network.

The Alberta Farm Mental Health Network will continue to advocate for mental health research and services that work for farm families.  To receive updates to this initiative in your inbox, please subscribe to our blog by submitting your email address on our website (areca.ca) . To connect to the AFMHN send us an email at linda@areca.ab.ca.

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