MYFB — Ep. 39: Making headway on mental health in agriculture

Economic health. Physical health. Environmental health.

These are all factors we consider when looking at our overall health on the farm, but how often do we take a look at our mental health?

We all know that farming is stressful, especially since it involves unpredictable variables such as weather, markets, and family. Farmers across the country are talking about mental health in agriculture at a much higher frequency than ever before.

In this Mind Your Farm Business podcast, host Shaun Haney talks to Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, about a challenging topic — mental health, how it impacts farms across Canada, and what we can do to tackle it head-on.

Jones-Bitton is a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Guelph. In the fall of 2015, she turned her research focus towards looking at mental health and wellness in farmers, after hearing about growing concerns facing mental health in agriculture.

Although there are many overlaps between other business owners and farmers, Jones-Bitton argues that there are some key differences that impact farmers mental health. (story continues below the player)

“The variety of stresses that farmers experience, and the fact that many of them are out of their control, as well as the family history and legacy that are behind a lot of the farms, puts them in their own category,” she explains.

When it comes to mental, and overall wellness, Jones-Bitton says that it is a continuum, and there are many different severities, with all of them having the ability to have a significant impact on your life.

“We can have someone who has a clinical diagnosis of depression but is managing it very well and is actually high on the wellness continuum. Alternatively, we can have someone who might not be clinically depressed, but they themselves could be very low on the continuum,” she says, adding “It’s not cut and dry.”

Often farmers and ranchers are working alone, and that can be a factor when it comes to the state of their mental health.

“Humans are social creatures. Even the most introverted among us do need human connections. Support networks are very important. We know that high-quality relationships and social support are associated with happiness and well-being. As farms have gotten bigger and perhaps more spread out, some are wondering if farmers are seeing more social isolation than ever before,” notes Jones-Bitton.

Although talking about your mental well-being and encouraging others to do so as well is an important first step, there are more steps to be taken.

“Everyone knows what it takes to be healthy. We all know that we need good quality sleep, we need to eat nutritious foods, and we need to be physically active. The problem is, talking about it doesn’t make those things happen. What we need is habit change and even a culture change in agriculture. Where we do actually start to ‘walk the walk’ and start to take care of ourselves better. That is the harder part.”

Disclaimer: Royal Bank of Canada and its subsidiaries are not responsible for the information provided in this podcast, and this information does not necessarily reflect the views of Royal Bank of Canada or any of its subsidiaries. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its subsidiaries.

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