Federal committee announces mental health strategies for ag sector

By Keith Currie
President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Mental wellness on the farm is gaining momentum as the industry draws attention to the impact silent suffering has on the health of our farms, families and rural communities. The federal government recently released a new report, Mental Health – A Priority for our Farmers, based on a six-month study conducted last year on the mental health challenges facing Canadian producers.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food conducted the study, and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was among many agricultural organizations that provided input to the committee last fall.

In the study report, the Standing Committee has provided 10 recommendations for the federal government to consider – actions aimed at breaking down the isolation and stigma farmers face when it comes to mental health. While the individual recommendations all have valuable needed  action items, collectively they provide the basis to a road map for long-term planning and investing in mental health initiatives and services for agriculture

The stressors are nothing new to the agricultural community – the risks and uncertainties that come from weather, environmental challenges, market fluctuations, debt and regulations, and the stigma that prevents many from seeking help. But the lack of support and services available to help farmers cope with these stressors, and the added amplification from negative commentary on farming through social media, means farmers are far more vulnerable to mental health problems compared to the general public.

The report recommendations cover farm labour, regulatory changes, harassment and cyberbullying by activists, e-health services, mental health training and development of a national research centre on agricultural mental health.

These recommendations support and align with initiatives that OFA has been advocating for over recent years. The need for high-speed internet across rural Ontario would support options for e-services for mental health. Whenever the government considers regulatory changes, the impact on the agriculture sector must be fully considered. And as the incidence of on-farm trespassing and harassment continues by activists, a recommendation to elevate cyber bullying and intimidation to a Criminal Code offense.

OFA will be following this file closely to track the progress of these recommendations by the federal government. Our work to bring awareness of this important health issue and realize OFA’s recommendations outlined in the report isn’t over yet. Many of the recommendations fall within the federal jurisdiction, while others will need to be addressed at the provincial level.

For more information and a list of mental health resources available to Ontario farmers, visit ofa.on.ca.

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