A mental health and wellness program designed specifically for farmers is launching this week in Ontario.

The program, In the Know, was designed by Drs. Andria Jones-Bitton and Briana Hagen, with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. It will be rolled out in 18 regions of Ontario. It was also launched in Manitoba earlier this year though the provincial producer group, Keystone Agricultural Producers.

The program is geared toward helping farmers better identify, understand, and cope with the many mental health challenges they face in their profession, and will be run by Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario.

“Farmers face a wide range of occupational stressors,” says Jones-Bitton. “Some of those stressors have been around for centuries, like weather, a demanding workload and finances. The research we’ve done has also shown there are newer stresses. Things like the vilification of farming and agriculture have a big impact on farmers. Intense pressure from wanting to preserve the legacy of a family farm is also a major contributor to stress.”

The program features half-day, online, professionally-led sessions on topics such as stress, depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and how to start a conversation around mental health and well-being.

The program is based on previous research by Jones-Bitton that revealed farmers experience higher rates of psychological distress and mental health concerns than the general population and are also less likely to seek help. Recent research by Jones-Bitton and Hagen has found that a lack of accessibility to mental health supports and services, mental health stigma in the agricultural community and a lack of anonymity were among the main reasons that farmers aren’t seeking the support they need.

One of the main goals of In the Know is to increase help-seeking among farmers, says Jones-Bitton.

The program is being launched in 18 agricultural areas in Ontario and will be delivered by a mental health professional with agricultural experience or with a co-facilitator from agriculture.

Manitoba is currently running the program, while other provinces are also gearing up to introduce it. Manitoba plans to run 500 people through the program in 2021.

Jones-Bitton began working on the program in 2015 with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and matching funds from a number of agricultural organizations.

“We worked to create the In the Know training program to teach mental health literacy to people working in agriculture,” Jones-Bitton said, adding that numerous agricultural and mental health stakeholders were involved in its development. “It was very much created with farmers, for farmers.”

The Ontario program is a partnership between U of G, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and CMHA’s Ontario Division. Training is being made available through CMHA branches thanks in part to a donation from Trillium Mutual Insurance.

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