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Alberta Response to Farm Mental Health Capacity

Updated: Jun 23

The Alberta Farm Mental Health Network (Network) continues to push forward and explore the rural landscape of mental health supports. Since our last update we have met with over 25 different associations, government programs, private mental health practitioners, researchers, media and even some farmers. The outpouring of support from the farming community and the enthusiastic response from those delivering services in the industry has been heartwarming.

Through our conversations a few themes have started to surface and are informing the whitepaper on farm mental health that is under development. There seem to be three types of mental health interventions being funded and offered, and we feel all three need to be considered from a farm culture perspective to provide a well-functioning system.

The first type of services target prevention and promotes good mental health. These services focus on education and media campaigns that reduce stigma, encourage healthy habits and point people to where they can get services when needed. Some of these programs include:

  1. In the Know, a mental health literacy program designed for Canadian farmers and facilitated by people with farm backgrounds, and

  2. Sustainable Farm Families, physical and mental health assessments and education delivered by the Alberta Farm Safety Centre, and

  3. Do More Ag, a farm focused mental health not for profit association that offers programs and workshops that support the mental health of farm families.

A flier called Building Farm Mental Health Capacity in Your Community has been created by the network and is available for anyone to download on our website. The flier was recently distributed through the FCSSAA and the Rural Mental Health Network to encourage mental health animators in rural communities to build capacity to support their local farming community.

The second type of service responds to crisis. Alberta Health Services, Victim Services, RCMP and crisis/hot lines are Alberta's rural responders for mental health crisis. Farmers however are less likely to reach out for crisis support if they think that the responder will not understand their situation. Providing a dedicated farm crisis line staffed by people who understand farming removes this barrier. There are a few initiatives that are responding to this call for service.

  1. Do More Ag announced in August that is is working to create a national farm mental health crisis line called AgTalk. Do More Ag has an excellent presence in farm media so seems like an ideal place for farmers to reach out for service. The idea is to have a national Farm Crisis Line that links into local provincial resources. For now they offer a comprehensive listing of mental health service on the Find Support section of their website.

  2. CMHA manages a number of hotlines, including the 211 service referral line which has recently been expanded to cover the whole province. They have the hotline infrastructure and referral lists and so we connected them with Do More Ag to talk about the AgTalk initiative. For now CMHA has committed to training their responders with the AgCulture course so that responders on the 211 and other hotlines will be better equipped to help farmers that use their services.

Neither of these service currently provide a fully resourced 24/7 farm specific crisis line, but offer hope that things are moving in that direction.

The final type of service needed for a well-functioning mental health system is affordable and available psychotherapy in line with farm culture. The Network reached out to the Psychologist Association of Alberta to find out why rural members are not currently on their website listing and to gain a better understanding of the capacity of their members serving rural Alberta. We learned that those in private practice tend to get enough work just from word of mouth so often don't advertise, and most of the registered members are urban based. However the PAA recently created a rural community of practice for their members as a way of networking and supporting each other. Laura Friesen leads this new community of practice so we were able to reach out to her.

Laura Friesen is a Registered Provisional Psychologist (AB) and Psychology Resident at the UofA who is currently conducting research related to rural psychology. Laura is also spearheading the rural outreach program at Clinical Services at the UofA. The clinic has expanded to deliver Telepsychology to rural communities. We were able to talk to Laura about our mission to improve access to psychotherapy for farmers, and the need for practitioners that understand farm culture. Coming from a remote farming community Laura understands the challenges and filled us in on some of the work she is doing to try to address the situation.

Since then we have met a few more farm culture aligned therapists in private practice, and we are hopeful that a community of engagement will result that markets their services to farm families. In the meantime we have been letting them know about the great work being done by Do More Ag, In the Know, and the Sustainable Farm Families programs and encouraging them to connect. There is way more to be done in this area but the future hold potential!

The work of the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network so far has moved the farm mental health service mandate in the following ways:

  1. Creating a whitepaper on Farm Mental Health to inform the nest Ag Policy Framework negotiations

  2. Building awareness in the mental health service community of the unique needs of farmers and promote the AgCulture course to improve how they align with farm culture.

  3. Reaching out to psychotherapy practices with farm connections and encouraging them to connect and market services to farmers and farm communities.

  4. Connecting service providers who are looking for ways to reach out to farming communities with local mental health animators through the Rural Mental Health Network, FCSSAA and our network.

The Alberta Farm Mental Health Network will continue to advocate for mental health research and services that work for farm families. To receive updates to this initiative in your inbox, please subscribe to our blog by submitting your email address on our website. To connect to the AFMHN send us an email at linda@areca.ab.ca

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