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Depression Seminars Draw Small Audiences

“People don’t want to be perceived to be associated with depression.”

– GERRY FRIESEN

Poor attendance at two recent rural workshops on depression emphasizes the need to explode taboos about openly discussing mental illness, organizers say.

Fewer than a dozen people in each case attended public meetings in Morris and Arborg last week to talk about men, farming and depression. Organizers had set up 50 chairs in both meeting rooms.

The meetings sponsored by the Manitoba Pork Council and the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association aimed at increasing awareness of stress, depression and suicide among financially devastated producers and their families.

But although held in communities centred in the two hardest-hit sectors – hogs in Morris, cow-calf in the Interlake – the meetings drew little response.

There were two reasons, organizers said later.

One was that the meetings were hastily organized with little lead time for publicity.

But Gerry Friesen, who spoke at both meetings, offered another explanation.

“It’s stigma,” he said. “People don’t want to be perceived to be associated with depression, whether that’s themselves or someone beside them.”

That’s particularly true for men, for whom the workshops were primarily intended, said Friesen, who speaks to groups about his own struggles as a former hog producer with depression.

In a presentation at both meetings, Kim Moffat, a counsellor with the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line, said men are less likely to seek and accept help because of “social expectations,” such as fear of appearing weak and emotional.

So, when men experience depression, they tend to cope in unhealthy ways (anger, isolation or just plain working harder) instead of seeking help for their problems.

Not surprisingly, men are three to four times more likely to die by suicide than women, according to the statistics.

There are few studies on farm suicides in Canada. But research in the U. S., the U. K. and Australia suggests farming has a higher suicide rate than any other profession, Moffat said.

Some possible reasons are higher stress levels, fewer mental health services and easier access to means, such as firearms, pesticides and machinery.

But the main reason for calls to the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line, especially from those who are suicidal, is usually money, said program manager Janet Smith.

That’s borne out by a 2005 Canadian Agricultural Safety Network survey of 1,100 farmers across the country in which the major reported cause of stress was financial, Smith said.

Even if financial pressure causes depression among farmers, a market recovery won’t necessarily cure it, said Friesen.

In Friesen’s own case, when he finally sought medical help for depression, his doctor told him he needed anti-depressants. Friesen balked, saying what he really needed was money, not pills. No, replied the doctor, you’re depressed. You need treatment. Money won’t change that.

Smith said she’s noticed a difference in male farmers’ willingness to seek help in the 10 years the farm stress line has been in operation.

“We often say to people, we might not be able to help you save the farm. But we can help you save your health, your relationship with your spouse, your children and, in fact, help save a life.”

The toll-free number for the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line is 1-866-367-3276.

Smith said the stress line’s four trained counsellors, all of them farmers, handled 2,187 calls in 2009, 1,217 from women and 970 from [email protected]

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