Bringing mental health first aid to the agricultural mainstream



I was in a conference call around access to mental health services last month, and a question came up that I’m sure a great many of us have considered: what can we do to break down stigma in our communities?

Now, there are many ways we can go about breaking down stigma (worthy of a whole other post), but for a couple of the call participants (myself included), an immediate thought was to encourage everyone to participate in a Mental Health First Aid course to learn how to respond when help is most needed.

Unfortunately, not everyone can.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s basic course costs around $100-$300 and takes two days to complete, making it inaccessible to people who can’t afford the time off work, let alone the registration cost. Because of our volunteer efforts, our course was paid for, and though I’m still working off the hours I lost to my regular job, I have no regrets. It was enlightening, empowering, and as important for everyday citizens as certification in physical first aid or CPR.

But, the thought of accessibility made me start to wonder: why aren’t our companies sponsoring participation? We’ve heard of people attending agriculture conferences through sponsorship, so why not this as well? I also wondered, why couldn’t it become part of the training required for employees? (Even those outside of health care.)

Improving our understanding of mental health challenges and mental illness doesn’t just benefit personal relationships, it also offers benefit to the workplace, fostering an environment where employees may be more comfortable addressing mental health. And, if we are more comfortable talking about mental health, we are less likely to isolate those who are challenged by theirs, and perhaps, willing to open up about our own. We are also more likely to notice behavioural changes, and offer a safe place for discussion.

And, there could be benefit to customers/clients as well. Imagine responding to a product inquiry, hail claim, post-mortem, or, just being present for any of the other number of times we end up having a conversation with someone one-on-one in agriculture. With mental health first aid, we might hear hints of struggles; we might be better equipped to handle a potentially difficult conversation; and we’ll be better able to suggest and offer help.

Perhaps it’s time we propose our workplaces consider hosting a course, or, to take it a step further, perhaps we recommend that training become part of the process for all hires.

Let’s go beyond thinking about stigma, and do something to break it down. Let’s push the agriculture industry to lead the way, to begin the long-needed fight for ourselves, our colleagues, and our communities.

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