Government efforts to improve mental health supports for Canadians should be improved.
Every year, Bell “Let’s Talk Day” is welcomed with kind messages from people, including politicians, encouraging folks to take care of themselves and each other.
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau did just that this Jan. 28.
In a press release, Bibeau says workers in the sector have had no shortages of stresses this year. She rightfully points out farming is often a seven-days-a-week job, in an isolated environment.
“We always think everythiçng is fine and we can get by on our own, but sometimes talking about it can really make all the difference,” Bibeau’s statement says. “A hard blow can happen to anyone — man or woman, young or old — and no one should hesitate to seek help.”
Bibeau is right, and like everyone who earnestly encouraged people to talk about mental health and ensure it’s not a taboo subject, she should be commended.
But let’s unpack the options for those people – man or woman, young or old – who are trying to seek those supports.
A few weeks ago I was one of those people.
Like many, I’ve struggled with my mental health, particularly throughout the pandemic.
After spending a decade in Saskatchewan (and most of my life before that in Alberta), I relocated to Ottawa in 2019.
I did so under the impression I’d still regularly get to see all the people I love in my life. At first, the move was fine: my partner is from this part of the world and shoehorned us into a community of great people. I revelled in exploring the nation’s capital and learning the ins and outs of reporting in Ottawa.
We were well on our way to creating a new community in a new place.
There was also the comfort of near-monthly visits from friends or family members, further aided by my own trips home.
As you all know, COVID-19 changed all this.
I wasn’t able to visit family members during their final days – not being there to hug my mom after she lost her own mom will forever nag me.
My only nephew is learning to skate this winter in Saskatoon, and I hate not being able to give him lessons.
The constant isolation and frustration of living in a metropolitan city that feels like a ghost town doesn’t help.
People all over the world have had difficult experiences – many much worse than my own.
Living in downtown Ottawa, I wrongly assumed mental health supports would be easy to access. They weren’t.
Even in a major city centre, resources are scarce. The situation is much worse in isolated communities.
I’m grateful my partner, family, friends, doctor and employer are supporting me – but I still wish there were more resources available, for me and others.
A 2019 report from the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food concluded access to mental health care is “limited in that health professionals are still not familiar with the unique nature of agriculture, and current efforts to help farmers are not consistent … ”
While pointing out there are many initiatives supporting mental health for farmers, the MPs representing the major political parties concluded together “this is not enough.”
Ten recommendations were made by the committee, and there continues to be momentum for a national mental health strategy specifically aimed at the agricultural sector.
Those supports are needed, and governments at all levels should be working together to ensure they are available – no matter where we live in the country.