CFFO: Mental health

By Marie Versteeg

Next week, May 6-12, is CMHA Mental Health Week. Organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the week-long awareness campaign brings mental health and well being into focus nation-wide, across communities, age groups, and industries.

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Mental health in the agriculture industry has been in the spotlight over the last few years. At the beginning of 2019, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) launched an awareness campaign that has included initiatives such as hosting stakeholder roundtables, producing an online Mental Health First Aid kit for farmers, and, just recently, launching a video campaign to kick off the 2019 planting season.

In the introductory video to the campaign, Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman says, “You are some of the toughest people out there, but sometimes that makes it harder to reach out for help.”

It’s true that farmers have always had to deal with forces beyond their control, like the weather, and the job has always been somewhat lonely. So, it’s possible that some are skeptical or even confused about the current spotlight on farmer mental health. As one farmer has commented, “This problem has always been with us.”

Many farming communities have experienced tragedy because stigma has kept people from voicing struggles, from building resilience, and from recognizing warning signs. And because we’ve historically associated mental health with crisis, we’ve also believed that we could somehow distance ourselves from it.

But awareness campaigns, like the one taking place in Ontario agriculture right now, are important because they help to normalize mental health concerns as just another aspect of overall health.

The Canadian Mental Health Association describes mental health as a “state of well-being, and we all have it.” Our mental health is defined by “having a sense of purpose, strong relationships, feeling connected to our communities, knowing who we are, coping with stress and enjoying life.” It’s important to take stock of our own state of well-being, just as we are encouraged to keep track of our physical health.

In the past, people have sometimes seen mental health problems as a sign of moral weakness, and we need to get over that. As a community, it’s important to break the stigma around mental health struggles, and the best ways to do that are to talk about it, to share experiences, to cut out gossip, and to support one another.

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Marie Versteeg is Manager of Executive Board & Committees for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham. It is also archived on the CFFO website, www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,000 family farmers across Ontario.