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HomeNewsAn increase in suicides among local farmers has experts concerned

An increase in suicides among local farmers has experts concerned

KAWARTHA LAKES-An increase in the number of local farmers who have taken their own lives recently has mental health professionals concerned.

Although they don’t have exact numbers due to the stigma involved, Jack Veitch, Canadian Mental Health Association, Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge, says he’s hearing a lot more about it recently. “What we do know is I have more anecdotal evidence of a lot of farmers coming to me and reporting instances of suicide.” Veitch told Kawartha 411. “A lot have expressed concerns with just work and then we had a hard season where we came off a year where we had a ton of rain and then no rain and I think a lot of crops were effected and then unfortunately maybe we’ve had a group of professionals that hadn’t talked about their mental health and wellness before and we know when we dont talk about health and wellness and we don’t address our mental health, bad things can happen.”

A study led by University of Guelph Professor Andria Jones-Bitton, reveals that farmers are feeling the pressure. “A national survey that we conducted in 2015-2016 showed higher levels of stress, depression, and burnout, and lower levels of resilience than the general population” Jones-Bitton told kawartha 411. “A recent report from the US CDC showed that farmers (actually categorized as farmers/forestry/fishery combined) were the occupation with the highest rates of suicides amongst males in all professions.”

Jason McIntosh is a local farmer and a member of the Peterborough Kawartha Cattlemen’s Association. He knows of at least two farmers in his circle who have died by suicide recently. “After it happens you hear that it’s happened but I don’t pry and find out what has happened and you really, its amazing how tight knit our community is but you don’t hear that much.”

Jones-Bitton, working with a group from the Ontario Veterinary College studied more than 1,100 responses from across the country to an online stress and resilience survey and the data was alarming. 45 per cent of the respondents who participated in the survey were classified as having high stress,58 per cent were classified with varying levels of anxiety and 35 per cent with depression. That’s more than double the levels of farmers in other countries according to the research.The research also found a significant number of farmers were emotionally exhausted and cynical.

“Some of the producer comments leave little doubt about the impact their job and culture is having on them,” Jones- Bitton told Real Agriculture Magazine. “One said, ‘We are not invincible, but we feel we must be’. Another said, ‘What makes me the most upset is that I have everything I dreamed of — love, family and a farm — and all I feel is overwhelmed, out of control and sad’.”

Jones-Bitton says the stigma facing farmers is a real concern. 40 % of respondents said they’d feel uncomfortable getting professional help “because of what people might think.

McIntosh says ” It’s difficult for the families and a lot of time it comes as a shock.”

Veitch and the Canadian Mental Health Association have been doing a lot of work with the stigma surrounding mental illness and talking about suicide. “I think you hit the nail on the head that there’s a major stigma in talking about suicide, and its in our language and we really try to get people away from the term “commit suicide”. Veitch commented. “It carries with it a lot of negative connotation about criminalization and criminalty and what we want to do is tell people this isn’t an act , we arent trying to shame people from engaging in suicide we are trying to create a sense where people, if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide, they can reach out for support and that’s what’s going to deter them from attempting suicide.” 

While an exact reason for the higher rates has eluded researchers, Veitch says they have a few theories. “I think the biggest difference we find in this community in rural communities in general is accessability of service and you look at these farms and these homes that are out 15-20-30 minutes from the nearest local town or a 5 or 10 minute  drive away from your neighbours and how hard it is to get out and connected” Veitch explaines.

They’ve recently created a partnership with Lindsay’s Ross Memorial Hospital called the Assertive Outreach for Suicide Prevention Program. “Now we have a skilled mental health clinician who can do outreach prevention, so for someone who has attempted suicide and has thankfully survived and is now connected with Ross Memorial Hospital, we can do more intensive follow up and clinical work with that individual.” Veitch explained.

Referrals to the program come from the inpatient unit at the hospital. “It something we are very, very excited to be able to bring to the community.”

Along with the new Assertive Outreach program they also have crisis lines that are available 24/7 with case workers that can meet people in their homes or wherever they are at the time. “That to me is making a big, big stride in helping individuals that are potentially isolated.” 

However there are still some hurdles facing those looking for help. “We do have a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week crisis line and to be 100% transparent and to be totally frank these are underfunded programs.”

Kawartha 411 has heard from people suffering in the community that they struggle to get help outside of office hours. “If I have a clinician or a crisis worker that’s on the line on an active crisis call at 3am in the morning and another call comes through, best crisis practice tells us they can’t leave the active call to take another call that comes through.” As a result sometimes people who are calling the crisis line will get a voice mail. “I think we can all acknowledge this is not the ideal, it’s not a good scenario. What we encourage is for that person to leave their name and number and someone will call them back or if they can’t leave a message to try again and if they need to talk to someone immediatley call 911.”

Jones-Bitton, with support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, has put together a group of producers and mental health professionals to create and deliver a mental health literacy training program for farmers. “We are currently in Phase 2 of the research, which involves one-on-one research interviews with farmers to better understand mental health in agriculture, help seeking, and need for resources. Our plan includes development of training programs and resources for Canadian farmer mental health.”

If you are in crisis please call 705-745-6484 or toll-free 1-866-995-9933

To read more interesting articles and investigative news from the Kawarthas go to https://www.kawartha411.ca


&nbspphoto credit: ruimc77 Rural Scene via photopin (license)

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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