P.E.I. Program Helps Farmers with Mental Health

Published online: Feb 05, 2020 Articles Terrence McEachern
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Source: The Chronicle Herald

Mental health struggles and farming life hit home for Bloyce Thompson about a year ago when a friend committed suicide.

"He milked his cows and fed his cows and then he committed suicide. He cared about the animals and didn’t want to burden anyone else," said Thompson, himself a dairy farmer and Prince Edward Island’s minister of agriculture.

On Friday, Thompson announced a new website – www.farmerstalk.ca – to give P.E.I. farmers another resource to deal with the stresses of farming life and mental health issues. The website is part of the Farming Assistance Program, which is funded by the province, the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture, and other contributors, such as Farm Credit Canada and Amalgamated Dairies Limited (ADL).

Thompson made the announcement before a crowd at the federation’s annual general meeting in Charlottetown.

After his friend died, Thompson volunteered to help transport his cattle to a market in Nova Scotia.

“It was an emotional time because I saw his neighbours doing the work and helping out. And, as we loaded the last animals on the truck, we all kind of just, you know … the empty barn. It was a surreal moment for me,” he said.

“Maybe we can avoid that from happening again. Maybe he would have called this number or reached out.”

The website has a variety of resources, such as information about recognizing the signs of mental health issues, including stress, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, along with phone numbers to call if a farmer is concerned about his or someone else’s mental health. It also provides information about ways to improve mental health.

An important part of the website is a link to a talk bubble page where farmers can share and post messages, videos or photos of their personal struggles for other farmers.

“You can talk about your own experience. You can offer encouragement. The important thing is we let each other know we are not alone,” said Thompson.

Ron Maynard, the new president of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture and a Tyne Valley dairy farmer, said that farming can be a very lonely and difficult career.

"Last year was a difficult year for potato producers, especially with the very wet fall. We’re seeing potato people less affected this year, but we’re seeing other people that were affected – livestock people and tree growers,” Maynard said. “There’s challenges on everything. Sometimes they’ll peak, like last year with the very wet fall. The stress level was very high, and come January, we had a lot of calls.”

Thompson said professional counsellors in the Farming Assistance Program took calls from 140 farmers in need of help last year.

“Every crop year, you have to invest work and money with no guarantee of a return. Weather can make or break you, and so can the marketplace. The result too often is that farmers face stress in silence,” he said.

“Farmers are tough, and we’re not going to say we’re not. But there is a time you just can’t take another hit.”