Alberta Farm Mental Health Network
Responding to the needs of our Farm communities.
In 2016 University of Guelph researcher Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton conducted a national survey of farmers and found that farmers have a disproportionately high level of anxiety, depression and chronic stress when compared to the general population. Her findings found that access to services, stigma with getting help and the lack of understanding of farm specific stress and situations by health care practitioners were major barriers for farmers to find the help they needed. In response Dr. Jones-Bitton and her associates developed a program called In the Know a mental health literacy program specifically designed for the agriculture community, piloted in Ontario in 2016.
These findings will not come as a surprise to anyone involved in farming or living in rural communities. An increasingly variable climate, policies that seem hostile to the industry, commodity price uncertainty and of course the pandemic have all contributed significantly to the mental health on farm and in rural communities. Responses to these findings are coming from all sectors across Canada and vary from province to province.
In Alberta, Alberta Health has invested in the development of a grassroots rural mental health network managed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). CMHA Rural Mental Health Project provided training and seed funding to communities across rural Alberta to identify and address mental health issues at the local level. The result has been the building of a network of support and sharing that has enhanced mental health response in rural communities. Funding for the project continues as they move it from a pilot project to a CMHA Rural Mental Health Network with stabilized funding and supports.
AgSafe Alberta a not for profit organization funded through grants and direct support from the agriculture commodity associations and has been licensed to bring the “In the Know” program to Alberta. They piloted the program online in 2020 and are now in the process of recruiting facilitators and finding partners to deliver more sessions over the next two years.
This year (2021) the Agriculture Research and Extension Council of Alberta (ARECA) secured 2 years of funding from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) to coordinate the farm specific mental health response in Alberta. A steering committee made up of organizations like Family Community Support Services Association of Alberta (FCSSAA), ASB Provincial Committee, CMHA, Rural Development Network, the Office of the Health Advocates, and the Rural Health Professions Action Plan has been formed, and a contractor hired to coordinate the project. The Alberta Farm Mental Health Project will work with the existing activities and responses to identify and address gaps, connect people/projects/programs that are already responding and provide recommendations and feedback to governments and funders.The idea is to lay ground work for continued collaboration and ongoing activity leveraging what is being done not starting something new.The working committee for the project consists of ARECA, AgSafe, AF and Linda Hunt who has been hired as the part time coordinator and is currently the Executive Assistant for the ASB Provincial Committee.
Currently a brief jurisdictional review is being conducted and a survey developed to build a community of engagement and identify gaps in resources and services. A landing page of the project is being developed on the ARECA website and anyone interested in this project can connect with Linda through the project email firstname.lastname@example.org.