Low prices, unpredictable weather, and sector upheaval take their toll on even the most resilient farmers and family members, and intense emotions are normal reactions for tough times.
But feelings of self-blame or hopelessness that don’t go away, and a sense that life isn’t very enjoyable anymore can be signs something other than a normal reaction – a depressive illness – may be setting in.
Research shows adolescent girls and women are twice the risk of developing depression compared to boys and men.
How to recognize signs of depression, and take better care for oneself was the message of 2009 Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference keynote speaker CBC Manitoba’s news anchor Janet Stewart. She spoke candidly about her own on-and-off struggles with depression throughout her adult life and high-pressure career.
It was only after recognizing symptoms and getting help through a combination of counselling and anti-depressant medication that she was freed of the negative self-talk and dark thoughts that hounded her, Stewart told the 125 women attending the Winnipeg-based conference Nov. 2.
She urged her listeners to pay attention to their own symptoms too, and not resist asking for help.
“I’m from a buck-up culture too,” she said in an interview. “But if you open up about this, you’ll find out many others are going through it too.”
Heather Brown who farms at Portage la Prairie said Stewart’s story can help more women begin to at least acknowledge their own struggles with depression.
“And it’s places like this where people start to talk to each other,” Brown said of the farm women’s conference now marking its 23rd year and an annual draw for women across agro-Manitoba.
The Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line is a key resource for farm and rural families to access confidential counselling and other resources for mental health matters.
“Janet’s presentation was a great way to open things up, especially considering the challenges of farming this past year,” said Sandi Knight of MacDonald. Knight said staying well connected to friends and community greatly reduces the sense of being alone, or facing unique circumstances on the farm. She’s part of a group of women friends who meet on a regular basis and they’re a huge support to each other, she said.
“We can talk about things going on in our lives, on the farm and we can say to each other ‘you’re going through that too?’” she said.
The selected theme for the 2009 conference was Celebrating Rural Life and featured nearly 20 speakers on a diverse range of topics from using accounting and farm management software to farm succession, making rural-themed Christmas cards and mastering the basics of knitting.
Other guest speakers included Kim Streker of Sheeples Fine Fibres, co-owner of an Inwoodbased sheep farm and woollen mill, Raylene Snow who established a wellness spa on her Ste. Anne rural property and Enid Clark, Manitoba Women’s Institute president.
More than a dozen women vendors brought handcrafts and specialty food products to the conference’s featured “Mini Market.”
The conference has experienced its own share of bumpy roads over the years, conference chair Nina Edbom-Kehler said in her 2009 conference message, but it continues to be a very important event for rural women year over year.
“I hope you will all take something from this conference that perhaps will make the coming year less bumpy,” she said in her opening address.