We need to keep talking, even if we're burnt out: a conversation on mental health

Just like farmers take pride in putting in the hard work and long hours to see a job done, now is not the time to take our foot off the gas of the mental health and wellness conversation in agriculture.

“I can understand how people can start to be feeling burnt out about hearing about this all the time. It’s always mental health this, and whatever, but it’s really important to keep the conversation going. Whether it’s talking about mainstream mental health difficulties people are having, or something super specific about different challenges that farmers have in the ag industry that nobody else has, I think it’s super important we keep the conversation going.”

That’s the sentiment that Sean Stanford, of Magrath, Alta., brought forward in his recent panel discussion in Alltech’s Health and Wellness in Canadian Ag presentation.

It seems everywhere we go, whether it be a farm show or a field day, mental health in agriculture is bound to come up. This is a huge movement. It’s incredible the leaps and bounds we’ve come in just a short time. However, just because we are making progress, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop.

Coming to realize you need help can be seen as one of the most difficult steps. For Stanford, it took until he was at age 33 to be diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression, and initially, his signs showed up in physical pain — where his panic attack, felt like a heart attack.

“Mine manifested as physical pain and physical problems with my body. I didn’t think it was anything with my brain or with my mental status at all,” he explains. “I thought I was having a heart attack when I went to the doctor. It was just crushing pain on my chest, and I thought I was really going to die. So they did some tests, and it took them awhile to figure out that I just had severe anxiety, and that’s how it was presenting itself in my body.”

Often times, when we are trying to deal with emotions that dig so deep down into the real nitty gritty, it’s easier to take care of others than it is to take care of ourselves. However, we need to remember to take care of ourselves first, Stanford notes.

“I think it’s important that you have some gas in your own tank before you try to give some to somebody else. Because if you’re tapped out, or you’re exhausted emotionally and physically, you’re no good to anyone else. I think it’s really important that you take care of yourself both physically and mentally so you can help others along the way.”

There are many challenges that are specific to farming. We are reliant on the weather, and as much as we may try, we can’t control the weather. Days off are crucial, but sometimes, you’re just gonna have to sit in that sprayer for days on out to beat the wind or rain, regardless of your mental state. For Stanford, he deals with this by keeping in touch and meeting new people on social media, and getting out for some fresh air whenever he can.

“When I’m filling my sprayer up, I’ll go for a walk for a little bit while it’s filling with water, or try to stretch for a bit. If you’re filling the air seeder, climb up and down the ladder a few times and try to stretch your muscles out. Just having a little bit of exercise, as little as it is, that makes a big difference when you’re sitting in the cab for hours on end,” he says.

Check out the full conversation between Sean Stanford and RealAgriculture’s Kara Oosterhuis, below:

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