Canadian farmers open up about mental health: ‘They’re not the only ones’
There were about 400 chairs inside Room 106 of the Edmonton Expo Centre on Wednesday. Nearly all of them had farmers or those who work with farmers sitting in them. Those who came late and didn’t want to wade through the rows to the empty middle seats stayed at the back of the room. They leaned against the wall or sat on the floor.
The first-ever formal discussion about mental health at the annual FarmTech Conference in Edmonton was nearly at capacity.
“[It was] like nothing I’d ever dreamed of,” Lesley Kelly said. She’s a farmer too.
Kelly and her friend Kim Keller were there to lead the mental health discussion. Before the talk started, Keller asked those in the crowd to stand if they knew someone who had taken their own life.
Hardly anyone was left sitting in those chairs.
“It’s kind of hard to take in and watch but at the same time you realize the impact,” said Keller, who farms in northeast Saskatchewan.
“They look around that room and they see that they’re not the only ones.”
For an hour, Keller and Kelly spoke frankly about stress on the farm, coping in silence and the need to talk about how they feel.
“We kind of have this culture where you suck it up, you get up the next day and you keep going. You figure it out,” Keller said.
“Maybe you talk about it, maybe you don’t, but you surely don’t stop for a moment to take care of it.”
But that moment has arrived.
Recently, Kelly and Keller helped launch the Do More Agricultural Foundation, a non-profit group aimed at improving mental health resources across Canada.
“We’ve opened the door to start these conversations, and having the industry and events that put it on the agenda just helps reinforce that this conversation matters,” Kelly said.
Watch below: A conversation that began with a single social media post grew to a movement to educate more people on the realities of farm stress and suicide. Blake Lough filed this report in October 2017.
Keller began advocating for mental health awareness among farmers back in 2015. Last summer, she began tweeting about mental health on the farm. Those tweets inspired Kelly to share a video online discussing her husband’s anxiety attacks. Both have received many messages from other farmers wanting to tell their story.
Jill Burkhardt is from Wetaskiwin, Alta. She made sure she was at the FarmTech mental health discussion.
“I grew up on a farm, you didn’t talk about it,” Burkhardt said. “You’re rough and tumble. You were told to hide your feelings, so it’s great that we can get out and express what we feel.”
At the end of the hour-long talk, the hundreds in the crowd found a way to express themselves.
This time they all stood. And they clapped.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre, at least one person dies by suicide every day in Alberta and 75 per cent of those people are men. A representative from the resource centre said Wednesday there is a program specifically for men in agriculture through their Tough Enough To Talk About It program.
If you need immediate help you can click on this link.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Canadian suicide hotline, available 24/7, at 1-800-668-6868. For more information on suicide and to find help nearest you, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Please call 911 for immediate help.
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