One of Gerry Friesen’s lowest moments came in 2005 when, after a serious accident put his brother in the hospital, the entire weight of the family hog operation fell on his shoulders.
A neighbour dropped by one day and asked, in typical fashion, how he was doing.
Usually Friesen would say he was just fine. This day, he opened his mouth and for the next half-hour poured out everything that was going on.
“My neighbour said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I get that.’ And he didn’t look at me as if I had lost my marbles; it was just like, ‘Yeah, I get that. I sometimes feel that way. Can I help with anything?’” Friesen told Grainews in 2014.
“That kind of conversation was really freeing for me,” he said.
Why it matters: Stress can inhibit the ability to consider information properly when making decisions — taking steps now to manage it can mean better outcomes down the road.
Friesen, who now specializes in conflict mediation and stress management at Backswath Management Inc., said he now has a couple of people in his life who he can talk to when he’s not OK, and who will call him out when he’s not doing well.
Friesen often speaks about his experience with mental health issues. He told the Manitoba Co-operator that if he could give any advice to farmers who are reeling after a tough 2019, it would be to find someone to talk to, and to get second opinions when making crucial farming decisions.
A phone call away
“Everyone has a story this fall,” said Janet Smith, manager of counselling at Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services. Be it trade wars, elections, the dry spring, torrential rains of late summer, or freak winter storms, the farmers she’s spoken to have taken a beating.
Calls are up 35 per cent from last year this time, she said, noting that call volume has risen each year.
MFRNSS provides free, confidential counselling over the phone or by live, online chat. The operators have counselling and suicide-prevention training.
They also have agricultural backgrounds — which can be important, since counsellors must understand that taking a week off to decompress isn’t an option for most farmers.
Kim Hyndman-Moffat is a counsellor with MFRNSS. She said callers often don’t know where to start, so she invites them to start wherever they like and share what they’re comfortable with.
“Listening is a big part of it,” said Hyndman-Moffat. “We offer support. We offer information if that’s what they’re looking for.”
If she feels the caller is really struggling, she may connect them to emergency services in the area.
Smith added that, while private counselling can be expensive, regional health authorities have community mental health workers, which is a free service. MFRNSS can help people navigate the system.
Hyndman-Moffat said that they’ll also get calls from family members or front-line agriculture workers who are worried about someone in their life. MFRNSS can call the person they’re concerned for, ask them if they want to talk and offer support.
Be financially proactive
“We’ve had struggles from coast to coast this year,” said Darren Howden, operations vice-president with Farm Credit Canada.
“It’s not a message on you,” he added, referring to farmers’ financial woes. “It doesn’t mean you’re a poor producer. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad farmer. What it means is you’re in a tough spot.”
Howden said FCC has been calling as many customers as it can, asking them to come in if they’re in a bind. It hasn’t had many come in yet, as some producers are still trying to get crops off the field.
He said he was worried clients wouldn’t come in until spring, and by then their options would be far more limited.
“The more proactive they can be in understanding what their situation is, the better,” said Terry Betker, president and CEO of Backswath Management. “Especially when we have tough cash flow times.”
Howden said customers should bring in an up-to-date assessment of their current assets (what’s in their bins, market livestock, prepaid expense, expected crop insurance payments) and their expenses (what’s owed on operating loans, bills, cash advance balances, loan payments). Then they can sit down and see what the situation really is, and find ways to address it.
Consulting a third party is also important in high-stress times, Friesen said. Stress inhibits ability to consider all information and make sound decisions — and farmers make an astounding number of decisions, he said.
“That could not be more important than on the farm where not being on top of your game can be fatal,” said Smith.
If they sit down with their financial adviser, “then it isn’t up to just the person themselves,” Friesen said.
Betker added that in his experience, lenders want to know that a farm is managed well. Approaching them with a clear picture of what needs to happen signifies a well-managed farm, he said, and may result in a lower risk rating with the bank.
FCC’s website provides mental health resources, as does the Do More Agriculture foundation’s site.
“I just hope that people aren’t feeling alone out there,” said Howden. “There’s a lot of people in this together. Let’s work together, let’s reach out and get the help.”
Take the time for self-care
Here are some online resources that can help you manage the stress in your life: