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Rollout of mental health programs for rural Canadians coming this year

4-H, Farm Management Canada and Farm Credit are working together to try to raise awareness of this issue

Rural Canada will see the rollout this year of several programs to raise awareness of mental health issues, the Commons agriculture committee has been told.

4-H Canada will launch a healthy living initiative in three phases to support the mental and physical well-being of its members across Canada, Erin Smith, interim CEO and director of programs, told the MPs who are preparing a report to Parliament on mental health.

Phase 1 has already begun supplying 4-H leaders “with the tools and supports they need to recognize youth mental health issues and connect young people to resources,” she said. “Working with our strategic partner, Kids Help Phone, 4-H leaders will have greater capacity-building opportunities, and youth will have access to the education, tools and opportunities they need to develop strengths and navigate the challenges they face.”

Coming later this year are Phase 2 and Phase 3 that will focus on active living and nutritional health, she said. “We recognize that mental health has strong correlations to overall well-being and believe that taking a holistic approach will be incredibly beneficial to 4-H youth, as they develop the knowledge and skills to empower them in their pursuit of healthy living.”

Farm Credit Canada along with United Farmers of Alberta, Corteva Agri-Science, the agriculture division of Dow, DuPont, Cargill and the federal employment department are supporting the initiative.

Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada, said her organization has secured a three- year contribution agreement from the Canadian Agriculture Partnership’s Agri-Competitiveness program for “a number of initiatives that explore the connection between mental health and farm business management.” It has also received assistance from FCC.

Research shows “achieving success and the immense pressure to grow the business and continue the farm and family legacy can also compromise mental health,” she said. “Understanding oneself including your limitations and needs is crucial.”

FMC intends to launch a national study on the pressure on individuals carrying on a family farm, she said. Because the proposal has attracted requests from industry groups and individuals to participate in it, “we are ready to issue a request for expressions of interest to provide an opportunity for anyone interested in contributing to the study to come forward.

“While we know our farmers are incredibly stressed and we know that stress can crowd- and disrupt decision making, through this groundbreaking research we hope to further explore the factors influencing mental health: how we can support mental health through business management; how we can support business management through mental health; and, the critical path forward,” she said.

Michael Hoffort, FCC president and CEO, said that since FCC became involved in promoting mental health, it has received a positive response from producers. “They appreciate FCC acting as a catalyst to encourage dialogue and promote awareness of available resources. FCC is committed to supporting the agriculture industry and proud to partner with others who share our mission.”

In addition to the Rooted in Strength booklet, FCC “has created a series of print and radio public service announcements that direct people to resources they can access in times of need. We’re honoured that Canadian country music recording artist Paul Brandt offered to voice the English radio spots for us, knowing that his endorsement will go a long way in amplifying these messages with a rural audience.”

FCC has contributed $50,000 to the Do More Ag Foundation to fund 12 mental health first aid workshops, he said. “One hundred and two applications were received, a clear indication that rural communities see the need for this knowledge and training.”

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