Mental Health: It’s time to take the bull by the horns

Following the Bell Let’s Talk campaign which took place on January 31st, 2018, mental health became a topic under the spotlight with people across the nation opening up and sharing their battle against stress, anxiety and depression through social media. After learning that one of her colleagues committed suicide, Kim Keller, a farmer from Saskatchewan, used twitter as her platform to address the stigma surrounding mental health in agriculture and urged producers to reach out about the struggles they are facing (Langenegger, 2017).

Canadian agriculture is especially concerned when talking about mental wellbeing. Indeed, farming is the profession with the highest rates of mental health problems in Canada. In a survey on stress and resilience among producers, Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton researcher at Guelph University, collected alarming numbers. 58% of the participants were found to have anxiety, 45% suffered from high stress, 38% admitted they were highly emotionally exhausted and 35% were found to meet the criteria for depression (Jones-Bitton, 2016).

Farming is a challenging job associated with many stress factors. Producers have very little control over factors that can tremendously affect their yields and ultimately, their livelihood. They are powerless in the face of bad weather and constantly fighting pests and diseases attacking their animals and crops (see figure) (Gregoire, 2002). The stress generated by the uncertainty of growing conditions is worsened by the fact that farmers often carry debts that are very large in comparison of the value of their assets. The situation can rapidly become overwhelming as interest rates are climbing and farm revenues are dropping. This leaves producers constantly worried about their finances (Tait, 2017).

Money is not the only pressure on farmers’ shoulders. Their job is synonym of long working hours and close to inexistent holidays. Field work is only part of the agricultural tasks as farming also requires heavy administrative work. In the calving, seeding and harvesting seasons, many farmers end up working around the clock (Gregoire, 2002). The substantial workload involved can leave farmers feeling mentally and physically tired. Fatigue can have tremendous consequences as agriculture is a very hazardous profession. Indeed, farmers are at higher risks of illnesses and injuries, some of which can be fatal, compared to private workers (Lessenger, 2006).

Isolation is another big player in the stress game. Farmers are geographically and socially secluded. They often work and live in physically remote rural areas. Aside from being rare, neighbors are also far away which limits social interactions. Additionally, the number people working on farms is declining as agriculture becomes increasingly mechanized (Gregoire, 2002). Loneliness is a reality of agricultural producers, and it especially hits the young ones hard. A number of them find it difficult to balance their social and work life. It even inspired the reality television show “L’amour est dans le pre” in which single farmers try to find a partner (Lessard, 2018). Another social challenge for farmers is that they have difficulties sharing their struggles with their non-farmer friends. Those often simply cannot relate to farm issues since they don’t understand agriculture (Langenegger, 2017).

Distance can be a factor preventing producers from accessing mental health resources. However, the real problem originates from the strong stigmatization of mental illnesses in the agricultural sector. Among people that value their strength, toughness and pride to a great extent, reaching out for help is not well perceived. It is rather seen as a weakness and prevents 40% of Canadian producers from requesting help from mental health professionals (The Do More Agriculture Foundation, 2018).

Kim Keller wants to help the farming community end the stigma surrounding mental health through the launch of the Do More Agricultural Foundation. The non-profit focuses on raising awareness about the mental wellbeing issues experienced by Canadian producers. It also outlines the resources available to those in need of help such as hotlines and counselling programs specifically designed for farmers (The Do More Agriculture Foundation, 2018). The bottom-line is that farmers are struggling with mental health. However, they are not alone and they don’t have to cope in silence. The conversation has started, let’s keep it going.

Author: Césarée Morier-Gxoyiya

Gregoire, A. (2002). The mental health of farmers. Occupational Medicine, 471-476.
Jones-Bitton, A. (2016, June 28). Farmers need, want mental health help: survey. Retrieved from University of Guelph:
Langenegger, S. (2017, June 28). More suicide support, mental health services called for in agriculture. CBC News.
Lessard, A. (2018, January 24). Solitude en Bretagne. L’amour est dans le pre. Le telegramme.
Lessenger, J. E. (2006). Agricultural Medicine. New York: Springer.
Tait, C. (2017, September 12). Amount of debt Canadian farmers carried relative to asset value increased in 2016. the Globe and Mail.
The Do More Agriculture Foundation. (2018). The Do More Agriculture Foundation. Retrieved from The Do More Agriculture Foundation:

3 responses to “Mental Health: It’s time to take the bull by the horns”

  1. jessicastpierre says:

    The article title is specific and conceptual to agriculture with the use of the expression ‘’take the bull by the horns’’. Readers are ensured to read about mental health within the agricultural domain. The take-home message of the post is really straight forward and supported by relevant and valid arguments. It is the veritable presence of farmer mental health issues and their consideration for talking and not being restrictive by perception as there are resources available for them.
    I was surprised by all the elevated statistics presented by the author about the different emotional states of farmers from a research conducted close by where I lived. It is definitely not the number I was expecting. As the child of parent farmers and with the objective to take over the family farm, I really feel concern about this problematic that was not put forward before. I consider it really important, now with the resources available, to promote the help for farmers. Especially, the people that have a close relationship with the farmers as it is not an easy problem to detect.
    I only have one suggestion to improve this excellent post. On top of the causes mentioned by the author, there is another one to consider. From the isolation of farmers, the general public, like the author mentioned, is more disconnected and has a harder time to understand farmer reality, so this group tends to blame farmers for any price increase at the grocery store. This pressure definitely affects farmers, since often it is based over wrong perception considering that the main group recuperating the money is not the farmers.
    Being a farmer is an amazing profession where the nature is always close by, so it should not be that mentally and physically exhaustive to provide goodness around.

  2. Anatole says:

    J’ai trouvé le titre à la fois ironiquement amusant et évocateur, ce qui le rendait particulièrement accrocheur. L’article était vraiment bien écrit. En effet, l’accumulation des paragraphes courts qui décrivaient les différentes causes des problèmes de santé mentale des producteurs illustraient bien l’idée de pression que peuvent ressentir les agriculteurs québécois à la fois soumis à la solitude, à l’incertitude des éléments pouvant affecter une bonne récolte, à la dette, à la difficulté d’accès aux services en santé mentale qui pourraient les aider, aux vacances rares, etc. C’était selon moi l’aspect le plus fort de l’article : en tout cas, on comprend le message ! L’argument qui m’a le plus choquée est que 40% des producteurs s’empêchent d’aller chercher de l’aide psychologique parce que cela va à l’encontre de leur personnage de durs et de forts. Cet argument seul suffit selon moi à justifier l’importance de valoriser les échanges sur la santé mentale.
    Je pense que comparer les statistiques sur la santé mentale des agriculteurs à celles de la population générale aurait été une petite amélioration à l’article. En effet, les agriculteurs en souffrent-ils vraiment davantage que le reste de la population ? Une réponse positive à cette question aurait à mon avis pu donner encore plus de cas à l’argumentaire. Sinon, je ne crois pas qu’il y ait autre chose à ajouter à cet article clair, frappant et alarmant. Très bien joué Césarée !

  3. Julie Major says:

    Some great resources in Québec which could have been mentioned include the “rest house” (maison de répit) in St-Hyacinthe and the “travailleurs de rang”, both initiatives of the organisation Au coeur des familles agricoles.

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