More farmers across the province will have the opportunity to learn more about mental health following the expansion of a tailored program called “In the Know.”
Developed by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, a researcher with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, In the Know is a mental health literacy program tailored to the agricultural community.
The four-hour workshop educates farmers and allies in the industry – family members, veterinarians, breeders, feed sellers, and more – on recognizing mental health struggles, how to speak about mental health, and how to help others who are struggling.
Areas of exploration include stress, depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and how to start a conversation around mental wellbeing.
It’s delivered by the Canadian Mental Health Association at 16 branches in rural communities across the province.
A pilot project to test out the program took place in 2019, and now the province is providing more than $385,000 to expand the program to reach farmers in more communities.
“In a year unlike any other, there has been an increased demand for more mental health services and supports that address the unique needs of Ontario’s farming community,” said Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, in a Sept. 27 news release.
“Through the expansion of the In the Know program, more Ontarians in the agricultural sector will have targeted, reliable access to the highest quality mental health care that they expect and deserve.”
According to a 2016 study by Jones-Bitton, 35 per cent of farmers meet the classifications for depression, while 58 per cent meet the classifications for anxiety.
Forty-five per cent of farmers report high stress, and 68 per cent of farmers are more susceptible than the general population to chronic stress, which can lead to physical and mental illnesses.
According to the province, many producers don’t seek help because of the stigma around mental health, combined with a lack of services in rural Ontario.
But producers have provided feedback indicating they’re more likely to speak about their mental health if they feel their counsellor or other mental health support understands the agricultural sector and the realities of farming, according to the news release.
The province said the funding it’s providing would also go toward training and educating more mental health specialists on how to better support farmers and their unique challenges.