“The economic bank has run dry, wallets are empty, and the agricultural community is suffering.” Oliver Haan described the crisis in Hastings County agriculture. He was speaking at the Harvest Hastings annual meeting on November 28 at Moira.
Dr. Peter Andree’s and Kimberley Bittermann's, first recommendation in the recent Future of Farming in Hastings County report was, “Recognize the economic crisis in agriculture, and especially the impacts on farmer mental health and that of their families, as a complex set of ongoing and serious challenges.”
“It is to do with Canadian demand for cheap food,” said Haan. “The rain this spring, and challenges of getting crops in and getting crops off are taking a toll on farmers. it doesn’t matter what the commodity is.”
He was introducing dairy farmer and licensed therapist Deborah Vanberkel.
Deborah Vanberkel left her job in the public sector to help with the Lennox and Addington Farmer Wellness program. She is a dairy farmer who understands the industry. She used to work in the public sector as a licensed therapist. Now she has a private practice and works with the Lennox and Addington Federation of Agriculture to provide a Farmer Wellness Project.
“Mental Health is an issue for everyone,” said Vanberkel. “People think about mental illness but not about mental health.”
One of the problems is there are stereotypes about farmers. They are fixers, tough, and multitasking. If something is broken, they fix it. It is not black and white. If a person doesn’t know how to fix it, there is uncertainty. Working long hours trying to get everything done; one can lose sight of eating properly, sleeping, and caring for oneself.”
Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton from Guelph University did a study of 1100 farmers. She found 38 percent met criteria for anxiety, and 47 percent had high-stress levels. She also found 40 percent did not want to access services as they were concerned about what people would think.
There is a stigma around mental health, said Vanberkel. “What can we do? Where can we go? How can we create awareness about the need to look after one’s mental health?”
“What is mental health?” asked Vanberkel. “It is the ability to take things in your stride, roll with the punches, be able to fulfill relations, not be scared, and can adapt and change.
“One needs to ask oneself how one's emotions are and ask if you can take things in your stride. Are you getting more and more negative? Are you finding difficulty concentrating? Do you have racing thoughts at bedtime, and are you waking up in the middle of the night? How are you feeling towards everything? Are you getting resentful? Are you avoiding tasks? Are you able to cope with what is happening?”
Vanberkel used the idea of a stoplight. “Green is healthy, and you able to do things. Yellow is a mild disruption that one can reverse. Orange is getting more severe, and Red is a severe state of persistent anxiety.”
You should look at where you are. Yellow is a mild disruption that one can reverse. You are impatience, and things are beginning to bug you. You show increased anger and have a mindset of thinking negatively. Your work performance may be decreasing. Vanberkel used herself as an example. “I don’t like doing administration. I am apt to let it stack up, and then I stress. I have to practice not letting it stack up.
“You need to ask where you are regularly. You need to think what is your level of patience, and if you are feeling impatient, you need to let people know.”
The red zone is very problematic, and things can become unmanageable. In the red zone, simple decisions are very hard. One has a high level of anxiety and can have panic attacks and periods of disorientation. People under a lot of stress get more colds because being in a constant state of stress and anxiety affects one physically. Stress can wear you down. It can be reversed or made manageable. One needs to connect with people as being social is good for you. You should ask what do you enjoy doing and who do you like being with.
With the Orange and Red levels, one needs to get professional care, said Vanberkel. She understands the stresses farmers are under, and farmers don’t have to explain to her what farming is all about.
A farmer from Lennox and Addington can access the Farmer Wellness Program. They can speak with a professional. Hours are flexible, and Vanberkel can go onsite, talk on the phone, or meet on Skype. At present, it is a mental health and addiction pilot in Lennox and Addington. Hopefully, the program can expand elsewhere.
Vanberkel emphasized it is important to talk about mental health. She used examples of cancer and Aids. Cancer used to be a taboo subject, but now people talk about it. Thirty years ago, Aids was the same as we had no idea what it was and people did not talk about it.
We have yet to embrace Mental Health. It is still the elephant in the room, “People are learning about it and realizing it is OK not to be OK,” said Vanberkel. “One needs to ask family and friends, how can we support you? I don’t know what to do, but how can I help? The issues can be greater if people are living on their own as it is hard to sort out one’s head without people to talk with.”
"We should talk and de-stigmatize issues around mental health," said Vanberkel. "Lennox and Addington's farmers recently held a “farmer crisis” luncheon, which in effect, is a peer support group for farmers.
The Farmer Wellness project is near and dear to Oliver Haan’s heart. The Haan family raised money at their annual family tractor pull. He presented Deborah Vanberkel with a cheque for $800 for the Farmer Wellness Program, saying he wants the program to expand so everyone can call to get help.
Deborah Vanberkel runs Cultivate Counselling serves in Napanee Deborahvanberkelgmail.com (613) 985-7233 cultivatecouselling.com.