Alberta Farm Mental Health Initiative

Resolution E-19 update.

I was pleased to present a brief update on the Farm Mental Health Network (The Network) at the ARECA AGM on March 9th. Below is a summary of what was presented with a few updates.

The Network originally started as a short term project that would address the needs in Alberta by adapting mental health resources to a farming context and increasing farm mental health literacy in the farming community. In November 2021 however the focus of the project shifted to conducting a needs assessment and recommendations for an Alberta approach. Since this shift in priorities, the Network has participated in more than 50 engagements with mental health and rural service providers to assess opportunities, gaps and needs in Alberta.

What we discovered was that there was very little research done on the mental health of Canadian farmers and even less done within the Alberta context. Globally farmer mental health is an ongoing concern in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and the UN but has not been on the radar in Canada until recently. We could find no calls for research on the topic, no researchers specifically targeting mental health of farmers, and very few private practices that specialized in farm clients.

Reaching out beyond the boarders in Alberta we spent some time connecting with those in other provinces that were also working on this important topic. We discovered that the mental health supports for farmers varied across the county, and were largely being addressed by the activities supported by Agriculture Federations, farm safety associations, and to some extent the farm business community. While the delivery and characteristics of the programs varied between provinces, there was consistently three issues being addressed in all the programs:

  1. Crisis lines promoted to or dedicated to the farming community
  2. Reducing the financial barriers to seeking help
  3. Increasing mental health literacy in farmers and the businesses they use

With these three key deliverables in mind, and with the feedback and input from the mental health, agriculture and rural communities, The Network is developing recommendations for a made in Alberta approach to farm mental health. In broad strokes the recommendations can be captured in 4 categories:

  1. Develop a robust Alberta Farm Mental Health Network that connects individuals in healthcare, agriculture, and research to optimize services. 
  2. Enhance farm-culture knowledge among healthcare providers and those providing mental health support in rural areas.
  3. Build mental health capacity in farming communities by providing mental health literacy and referral support tailored for farmers and agri-businesses.
  4. Stimulate farm mental health research that provides evidence-based tools and resources, evaluates program outcomes, and allows Alberta to contribute to national discussions of farmer mental health. 

On March 22, 2022 The Network coordinator Linda Hunt, and ARECA Executive Director Alan Hall met with Minister Nate Horner at the Legislature in Edmonton to present the work of The Network and these broad recommendations. The meeting went very well with an in depth discussion about the progress to date and the findings so far. An invitation was extended to reconnect once the whitepaper was complete for further discussions.

In the meantime the work of The Network continues. One exciting development has been the development of a research partnership with Dr. Rebecca Purc-Stephenson and the Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities at the UofA Augustana. Rebecca is an Applied Social Psychologist who specializes in health, wellbeing, and organizational psychology. She brings extensive expertise in developing, implementing, and evaluating large-scale programs, and is well connected with healthcare and community-based services across the province. Rebecca was particularly interested in the farm mental health topic as it relates to her past research and her personal experience living and working on farm. The Network has already connected Rebecca to the national research initiatives and a joint funding proposal is in the works. We look forward to collaborating with Rebecca and the Centre as this project develops.

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