In May of 2022, the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network met with Minister Horner and presented their whitepaper outlining findings and recommendations for a made-in-Alberta approach to farm mental health.
Along with the whitepaper, the Network presented the minister with a proposal to jumpstart research that will clarify the issues and inform the creation of evidence-based approaches for Alberta farmers.
Canadian research on farm mental health is in its infancy and until now has been coming from the University of Guelph largely associated with the School of Veterinary Medicine.
The research program in Alberta will be focused on issues and service delivery models relevant to western Canadian agriculture. The minister was pleased to agree to our funding request, and a grant agreement was signed early in October.
The Network would like to give a special thank you for Minister Horner’s continued support of resolution E1-19, and funding their progress in developing agriculture-specific mental health resources.
They look forward to increasing community engagement as they work to address the current challenges.
One of the first priorities of the Network was to develop a website portal that destigmatizes farm mental health. They’re rolling out their Network with the campaign, AgKnow, with the goal of removing language and access barriers for the agriculture community by encouraging the development of farm specific mental health resources and services.
The AgKnow.ca website is now live, and will be populated over the next few months with Canadian specific research, resources for farmers and practitioners, and a referral listing of mental health practitioners with farm backgrounds and experience.
They’re kicking off the Network with the three main themes outlined below, which they feel are some of the key stressors farmers face right now:
This theme will create awareness and resources for Livestock Depopulation, which many farmers are struggling with right now.
Depopulation refers to the complete loss of animals on farm or in barn due to extreme weather events or to prevent the spread of endemic diseases like Avian Influenza and Chronic Wasting Disease. The Province and Federal governments work together on emergency response plans to handle these types of events, and have identified that there is significant mental strain on both the farmers who face the loss, and the regulators and veterinarians who carry out the orders. Currently there are more Federally mandated depopulation orders occurring in western Canada than the rest of Canada.
Working with short term funding from the province, the Network has partnered with the University of Alberta to study the impacts of depopulation on the people involved with the goal to provide insight and perhaps recommendations on how to improve the situation for everyone involved. Research is anticipated to begin this fall.
Farm Transition, or Succession Planning
Farm transition is an ongoing concern for Alberta where the average age of farmers continues to rise, and yet the number of farms that have gone through transition planning with their family remains at 8.4% according to Stats Canada. Advisors that are working with farm families to do the hard work of pulling together a plan are finding navigating the personal relationships between family members a huge obstacle. The Network is working with their research team to shed some light on some of these barriers and explore what factors ease the transition.
In the meantime the Network is building a referral list of mental health professionals with farm backgrounds that may be of assistance when navigating those tricky family relationships. The goal is to develop a listing for mental health and relationship professionals who have farm background or knowledge and to become a place where new professionals can come to learn and develop a farm specialization. Over time the research and learnings on the farm mental health and relationship topics specific to a Western Canadian farm culture will be made available through the Network with the hope that the Network will be a resource for farm transition specialists looking for support for their clients.
Farm Family Resiliency
The research is clear, farming is a high stress occupation and the impact of that stress touches every family member. Adapting to a world where farmers make up such a small part of the population, almost nothing is designed to meet their needs or specific challenges. It can feel like everything has to be modified or adapted to make it work for the farm, and that includes mental health strategies like stress management and self care.
Knowing how to manage stress and include self care into your everyday life is key to any successful farming operation, and who better to learn from than other farmers? The Network is committed to exploring the ideas and strategies that farmers use now that make Alberta’s farmers so successful. Their focus is on peer to peer support and finding evidence based strategies that work for farmers here. Research at the UofA will complement this theme by exploring what therapeutic approaches work best for farm clients and what recommendations can be given to healthcare providers to improve services for farmers.
The Network is only getting started and will continue to grow as research is conducted and resources are developed. They plan to continue to engage with farmers, researchers, and professionals to help them build a collaborative approach to farm mental health in Alberta.
They will continue working towards their mission in promoting mental health and resilience among farmers and farm families by providing evidence-based resources around key stressors that farmers are facing now, so that they can lead fulfilling and productive lives.
AgKnow – Alberta Farm Mental Health Network