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Workshops shine light on farmer mental health

KAP’s series of online workshops will highlight signs of mental distress, how to tell if someone is struggling, and the best ways to approach that conversation or get help yourself

Keystone Agricultural Producers is launching a series of 34 online workshops on mental health.

Producers looking to expand their knowledge on everything from market trends to agronomy have had their pick of online education for the last year, but the latest series of free ag-related seminars hope to tackle a problem usually held closer to the vest — mental health.

Why it matters: Farmers have little trouble confronting an agronomic issue, an equipment breakdown or a bad turn to the weather but when it comes to mental health, that’s often a harder conversation.

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), through the Manitoba Farm Safety Program, is spearheading the Manitoba launch of “In the Know,” a series of 34 online workshops to run through the end of March.

“We would really like to see as many people (as possible) get this training so that we can better support one another, and KAP has been hugely instrumental in bringing this to Manitoba and really showing its support for farmer mental health,” crisis counsellor and program administrator Kim Hyndman-Moffat said during the KAP annual general meeting in late January.

Each session is scheduled for about 3-1/2 hours and is dedicated to mental health in agriculture.

As well as general information on stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, substance use and suicide, attendees can expect workshops to cover the warning signs of those conditions — those to watch for both in themselves and in others — as well as tips on how to broach the topic with someone exhibiting those warning signs. The program’s goals also include spreading information on how to provide support and how to connect people with additional help.

“We’re going to talk pretty openly and candidly about some of the issues that are happening on our farms,” Hyndman-Moffat said.

The series was developed by the Farmer Mental Health Stakeholder Working Group and University of Guelph’s Andria Jones-Bitton and Briana Hagen — the authors of a widely circulated 2016 study on farmer mental health. That study, which surveyed 1,100 Canadian producers, revealed that 45 per cent of respondents suffered from high stress, while 58 per cent met the definition for anxiety and 35 per cent could be considered as suffering from depression. Reports of burnout, exhaustion and cynicism were widespread.

To compound the issue, the research team noted, many of those farmers were unlikely to seek help.

The researchers then took that survey data, as well as information from 73 more in-depth interviews, to lay the foundation for “In the Know.”

Eight of the 34 Manitoba workshops were scheduled between Jan. 18 and Feb. 3. A further 10 are scheduled for the remainder of this month.

Dates and registration details are available through the KAP website or on the KAP Manitoba Farm Safety Program’s upcoming events page.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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