Sask. farmers helping make mental health first aid training more accessible

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Sask. farmers helping make mental health first aid training more accessible
A non-profit started by two Saskatchewan farmers is aiming to make mental health first aid training more accessible for another tool to address farm stress. David Baxter reports. – Sep 10, 2018

Harvest is one of the most stressful periods of the year in the agriculture sector. In recent years, farm stress and mental health has been pushed to the forefront thank to producers like Lesley Kelly.

The Watrous, Sask. based farmer is a co-founder of The Do More Agriculture Foundation, alongside Gronlid, Sask. area farmer Kim Keller in January 2018.

Do More launched a one-year pilot community fund with Farm Credit Canada on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. The goal of the community fund is to provide mental health first aid training to people in rural areas across Canada.

“We’re hoping that within this pilot program that we have a good 10 to 12 communities that are in the first part of our program, and after that we’ll reassess,” Kelly said. “Depending on where it’s needed more then we’ll go from there.”

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READ MORE: FOCUS: How farmers sparked a conversation about mental health

Kelly and her family will be going through mental health first aid training in January. She said that people learn to help a sprained ankle, but not as many people know what to do during a panic attack.

This is something she knows all too well.

“After I had my second child I had baby blues, and shortly after my husband had anxiety and some panic attacks that were related to farm stress, financial stress, work and all of that”, Kelly explained.

“So we shared our story online about our journeys together and all the things that we’ve learnt. Our goal was to normalize the conversation and show that no one was alone in this.”

The 26-minute video struck a chord online. It’s been viewed nearly 12,000 times.

Kelly said that social media plays a major role in helping keep people connected during long hours in the field.

READ MORE: Technological innovation critical to ‘fourth revolution’ in farming

“At a time like right now, harvest is long days and long nights, and you might not be able to get in front of your friends. So the social media community connects us together and it’s like-minded people that are going through the same challenges, the same things as you,” Kelly said.

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Since farm stress and mental health began to enter broader conversation, Saskatchewan’s Farm Stress Line has recorded an increase in calls. Calls neayl doubled during the 2017/18 season compared to the prior year.

Farm Stress Line statistics from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. Global News

This is encouraging news for Todd Lewis, Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan president.

“People are a lot more willing to talk about it. Unfortunately almost every small community in this province has been affected by suicide,” Lewis said.

“It’s not just suicide either, it might be domestic violence, it might be alcoholism, there’s a number of people taking drugs. All kinds of things can happen…mental health is something that’s worthwhile talking about certainly recognition that if people are having problems they need to reach out.”

While there is improvement in people reaching out for help, farmers can be proud people and hesitant to say they need help. This is why Lewis said work like Do More’s needs to continue.

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If you think you’ve got a neighbour that’s having a bit of a problem, don’t be afraid to ask them. There’s no shame in asking, and no shame in asking, and no shame in saying that you are having a problem,” he said.

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