The topics of suicide and mental health and how they apply to life on the family farm, are being addressed through a new website.
The Do More Agriculture Foundation was created in part by Kim Keller, who farms near Melfort. Keller’s interest in helping farmers began in 2015 with a T-shirt campaign. The proceeds went to a farmers stress line. Last June, Keller received a distressing phone call.
"He (the caller) had actually just lost a farming client to suicide and he was looking for help, help for the family who had just lost their family member as well as other farmers he thought might be struggling," she said.
Not knowing how to help, Keller said she put out a message on Twitter.
“#Ag, we gotta do more,” she tweeted. “I received a message yesterday that kept me up thinking of how we do more. Farm stress is real. Suicide is real. Fellow farmers, retailers, input companies, grain buyers, lenders – this is on all of us. We fail each other when it comes to mental health.”
Two weeks after that tweet went out, Keller was attending an Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan carbon summit in Saskatoon and she was asked to moderate a panel on mental health. She said when the panel discussion ended, there was a line of older gentlemen at the microphones.
"We were all kind of waiting for some kind of backlash. Instead what we got were tears and we got people sharing their stories and their experiences," she said
According to a survey of mental health in Canadian producers from Guelph University, 35 per cent of producers meet the definition of depression classification, 45 per cent of farmers report having high stress and 58 per cent meet the definition for anxiety classification. Keller said it is difficult to name any one thing that causes stress on the farm, adding it can vary from producer to producer, depending on what type of agriculture they are involved in or the family situation.
"We do know that we have this culture where we are tough and stoic and we don't talk about our feelings and we surely don't ask for help and I think that's a big contributing factor to where we are at today," she said.
Keller said the advantage of having a website over a physical building is they can reach a bigger audience, and provide producers with a safe way to connect with other people, and also find a directory of resources available in their specific region.
"I think there will be reluctance for some people to come forward but we have seen so far is if you start the conversation, people are happy to talk,” Keller said.
Keller is partnering with fellow Saskatchewan farmer Lesley Rae Kelly, whose own video discussing her family’s experience with mental health issues went viral on social media last summer.
On Twitter: @nigelmaxwell
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