The Network's White Paper is Live

Alberta is among Canada’s most productive agricultural economies contributing approximately $9.68 billion to the provincial economy in 2020. In fact, Alberta’s agriculture industry is a key driver of economic recovery in a post-COVID world.

However, farmers face a range of occupational stressors unlike individuals in any other industry: unpredictable weather, volatile markets, animal-disease outbreaks, depopulation, long work hours, social isolation, inter-generational succession planning, mental health stigma, and limited access to healthcare. Collectively, these stressors threaten the mental health of farmers, which in turn could negatively impact the agricultural industry.

A national study of 1132 Canadian farmers reported that 35% experienced depression, 57% experienced anxiety, and 45% reported high stress, all values greater than the general population. The survey also found that farmers had lower levels of resiliency than average. Without getting the help they need and developing skills to build resiliency to stress, farmers are at risk of sustaining injuries and self-medicating, social withdrawal, and suicide.

While the stresses farmers experience will never be completely eliminated, there are ways to help them. In May 2019, the federal government released its report Mental Health: A Priority for our Farmers, which put forth 10 recommendations for supporting the mental health of farmers. Currently, a $7 million farm mental health pilot program is being tested in Ontario,15 which (1) provides farmers and their families with free counselling through a 1-800 phone line, (b) mental health literacy training for farmers and the agricultural community, and (c) suicide prevention training for anyone who works with farmers.

While it may be envisioned that this pilot program can be rolled out in other provinces, the program was developed using little input from Alberta farmers despite Alberta accounting for 21% of all farms in Canada.

Between November 2021 and April 2022, we conducted a needs assessment by connecting with healthcare providers, mental health professionals, individuals in the agriculture industry, researchers, and farmers, and reviewing research. While the federal government’s recommendations to support farmer mental health aligned with what we discovered, we learned that the program being piloted will not translate well in Alberta as it does not reflect the values, culture, and needs of our farmers nor does it make the most efficient use of our existing resources.

Using information collected and applying a recovery-oriented framework, we put forth four broad recommendations for supporting the mental health of Alberta farmers:

Establish the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network that connects healthcare, the agriculture industry, and researchers to bridge communication gaps, optimize services, and stimulate research on farmers in Alberta.

Build mental health capacity among farmers and farming communities by providing mental health literacy and referral support tailored for farmers, and those working in farming communities and agricultural businesses.

Enhance farm-culture knowledge among healthcare providers and those providing mental health support in farming communities.

Support community-based programs in farming communities and agricultural societies as they are vital for peer support in farming communities.

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