Mental health is not a sidebar

Pictograph, Agriculture Excellence Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Nov 2018

Many changes come as a result of crisis of one sort or another. Sometimes the threat is obvious, like an across-the-industry drop in revenue, and sometimes it can be more subtle and fly under the radar.

Farm Management Canada came into being in 1992 in response to a financial crisis that was facing the agriculture industry. Today, people are coming to realize that mental health needs at least as much attention as financial health – and that they are often closely related.

I had a chance to talk to Heather Watson, executive director of Farm Management Canada (FMC), about mental health at FMC’s Agriculture Excellence Conference held this week at Winnipeg, Man. We discussed the importance of health generally, mental health in particular, and how mental health discussions should not be a sidebar. (Story continues after audio)     

Watson says, “We see a direct connection between mental health and farm business management; we’re talking to sociologists, we’re talking to farm safety experts, as well as farmers, to get a handle on what is the link between farm business management and mental health.”

There is a tendency for information and ideas to be ‘siloed’ – for people to look only at their particular piece of the puzzle. But everyone has mental health, so it should be a conscious part of every discussion, not isolated and then only brought up when people are facing a crisis.

The light went on for Watson when she realized that the some of the things that come up in business management are also markers for mental health. She explains it this way. “As we’re talking about the symptoms of stress, and having sleepless nights, and anxiety and that pit in your stomach, or not being able to concentrate, or make decisions and I thought well, wait a second. When we focus on business management we’re focusing on how can we put plans in place to help farmers sleep at night, how can we build their confidence in making decisions, and planning ahead of time so that when times do get tough they have a plan they can rely on.”

It is clear that people in all parts of the industry are taking these issues more seriously today than they were just a few years ago. Watson points to an announcement that was made last week which shows that people and institutions are realizing there is a need for action. “Something that is very exciting for us is last week we had an announcement with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada along with our friends at 4-H and Farm Credit Canada, where we have funding now to do a study that measures: What is the link? Is there a link? Let’s explore the link between mental health and business management practices. How can we better support mental health by supporting business management practices.”

So let’s keep talking, and make sure mental health, like physical health, is a perfectly normal part of the conversation.

 

Dale Leftwich

Dale Leftwich farmed for over twenty years and throughout that time worked as an agronomist, seed manager and businessman. He has been on the Boards of SaskCanola, Canadian Canola Growers and Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan. He also help develop the documentary License to Farm.

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