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Mental health course set for farmers

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Canadian farmers face a variety of challenges in their everyday work that can contribute to deteriorating mental health, such as market volatility, poor weather, and unpredictable harvests.

To help provide those in the agriculture community with the tools to assist others and themselves through crisis, a Mental Health First Aid course is being offered for free in the west end of the district.

The two-day course will take place Jan. 30 and 31 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day at the Emo Inn and everyone who completes the training will receive a certificate.

“[Mental Health First Aid] is a tool that is going to . . . create awareness about mental health and break the stigma that currently exists while building a community of support and resources for those impacted,” said Kim Jo Bliss, event coordinator.

Rainy River Federation of Agriculture (RRFA) president, Lisa Teeple, who's also helping to organize the event, said mental health training is beneficial for everybody, and all are encouraged to attend.

“It's important to note that the people who attend this, aren't necessarily in a crisis position themselves or even in a depressed or anxious state," she noted. "This is also for people who feel they can be a community asset to assist where assistance is needed with respect to mental health.”

The course helps those who attend become more cognizant of what the signs and symptoms of mental illness look like as well as how to help.

“This is about understanding our neighbours," Teeple stressed. "If you attend the workshop you will be better equipped to help those around you whether it's at your job, on your farm, at the sales barn, or in the community.”

“You will be more aware and know the signs to watch for when someone is coming into crisis or extreme stress,” she added.

“You will be able to have the skills and the knowledge and the tools to be able to approach them and offer support, offer guidance, help get them to where they need to go . . . so they aren't living under this black cloud.”

Those who work in the agriculture industry face unique obstacles, that are often not fully understood by the general population, Bliss noted.

“As farmers, it's hard on you when you get paid once a year, we don't get a paycheque every two weeks,” she explained.

Long hours, lack of sleep, faulty machinery and unpredictable yields due to inclement weather are major stressors that impact much of the agriculture community locally, Bliss explained.

“Last fall's weather was pretty extreme," she said. "It started off that the rain was effecting the grain producers the most but as it continued, it started effecting everyone across the board and you weren't able to get your crop.”

“Hay supply was tight and even when we thought we could make some more hay it rained all the time,” Bliss added.

She told the Times she isn't aware of any farmers in the district committing suicide, but many do struggle with their mental health, particularly when their work is impacted by factors that are out of their control.

Across Canada, 35 percent of farmers meet the criteria for depression, 45 percent are high stress, and 58 percent have anxiety, while 40 percent wouldn't seek help when needed, according to a study conducted by Guelph University.

All of these statistics far exceed the levels of mental illness Canadians face on average.

Teeple said some of the recent struggles for the agriculture community stems from government services for farmers being cut.

A quarter of the ministry of agriculture, food and rural affairs budget was slashed this year, which equates to a $284 million reduction.

Another challenge many farmers face is having a strong network of support and feeling comfortable opening up to friends about the issues they're facing.

“You are somewhat isolated in agriculture . . . a lot of time working alone . . . also not everybody has a close friends group,” Teeple noted.

“By having this we can encourage people to let go of the stigma of seeking help when it's available.”

A mental health professional from Brandon, Man. will be delivering the Mental Health First Aid course and so far over a dozen people have signed up. Bliss said the venue best fits up to 30 people.

Despite the district's remote location, which makes it more costly and difficult to bring in specialists, Bliss was successful in securing funding, along with local sponsorship for the training course.

“I thought, why not apply? Our people here deserve this opportunity as much as any place else and so we were successful,” Bliss explained.

Locally the event is being sponsored by the RRFA, Rainy River Cattlemen's Association, CIBC bank in Emo, Kaemingh Fuels, and the Rainy River Vet Committee.

National and provincial sponsors include Do More Ag, Farm Credit Canada, and the Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Teeple said three years ago at their annual “Ag Day” event, the RRFA introduced mental health awareness as a program and noted it was well received by those who attended.

She told the Times this mental health training will build upon it nicely.

Depending on feedback from attendees, Bliss said after the training course they may start up a coffee group that meets monthly, where producers can go to discuss their problems and receive support.

“We don't want to lose any farmers, whether it's suicide or just quit because they're so damn frustrated with everything,” she explained.

Bliss encourages anyone in the farming community to attend the two-day training course and learn a little bit more about mental health.

“It's just going to help our community whether it's agriculture or our social networks or our families-having those skills-it's always good. Education is good,” she remarked.

“There's been such positive reviews of this program that I just don't feel like anyone will be disappointed," Bliss added. "It just has been really well applauded been across Canada.”

To secure a spot for Mental Health First Aid training or learn more about the course call Teeple at 275-5630 or Bliss at 275-9706.

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