Mental health is certainly one of the most significant and widespread issues of our time. It is said that by age 40, one in two Canadians will have experienced a diagnosable mental health condition while every year one in five will experience a mental illness or addiction problem. Within farming communities the numbers are even higher. Recent research from the University of Guelph suggests that 57 per cent of Canadian producers had possible anxiety and 34 per cent for depression.
We all know that farming and animal husbandry can be challenging at different times of the year. Amy Monea, founder of Heard Wellness, owns and operates an equine therapy program near Carstairs. She is an outspoken advocate for people experiencing mental health struggles and wants everyone to know that they do not have to suffer alone or in silence.
Canadian agriculture: an essential, and stressful, industry
Whether there is a pandemic, snowstorms, droughts or trade disputes, agriculture never stops in Alberta. Because of that, it can make our unique industry very demanding and, depending what time of year it is, stress may either be non-existent or ever-present. Calving season, seeding and harvest are some typical times in our calendars that come to mind. Every farm is unique and different things stress people out in various ways.
Stress carries many negative effects, including reduced performance at work and on-farm accidents. Left unchecked, stress can result in mental illness and sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Indications of stress
One of the first signs that a person may be experiencing mental health challenges, presented as stress, is a loss of their insight, according to Monea.
“Some people will be able to recognize that and notice while others may not,” she says. “If that starts happening, you are probably losing joy in the things you used to love.”
It is the beginning of issues compounding and may start small, but there will be noticeable changes. Less patience for your spouse or kids, poor posture and bodily tension in shoulders and neck and even sleep loss are fairly easy identifiers of stress.
There are certain times of year where stressful periods come and go, which is normal. However, it’s when those stressful effects continue to linger, such as poor sleep hygiene—which includes not being able to “shut your brain off”—unchecked anger, impatience, high blood pressure and more; any of these may indicate a person’s stress level is unrelated to the calving season or the mad dash to finish harvest before a snowfall.
When the feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger and other big emotions begin to “stack up on one another,” Monea suggests it’s time to begin a conversation before damage starts to compound. “If negative feelings don’t go away after calving season or you feel that your stress is starting to seep out of work and impact your relationships, it’s time to address it.”
Steps to improve mental health
While people find themselves at different points in their mental health journey, there are resources available to help improve mental wellness.
For Monea, she says friends and family can certainly be there to help, but they should not be relied upon solely as the person to help a suffering individual. While loved ones can be supportive, they are not usually equipped with the right tools and understanding of how complex mental health can be.
“The best approach is to go to a professional to get an assessment,” she says. “It’s important to be comfortable with a practitioner. We need safe places to work through these challenges.”
Monea has heard first-hand from people who feel stigma attached to the idea of receiving an official diagnosis, making them leery to engage with a professional.
“The first time you talk, it might be hard to even hear yourself say the words, but it’s important to get that support,” she says, encouraging people to depower the hold stress has on you by talking about it. “It’s a professional’s job to show up for you.”
Often, people report feeling immediately less stressed by the old adage of, “getting it off their chest.” If you are struggling with mental health, but aren’t sure where to start, your family physician will be able to direct you to the right professionals.
Where can I go for help?
Ignoring a situation long enough, especially one as important as mental health, will not make it magically disappear. With mental health, it’s quite the opposite. Left unchecked, negative thoughts and feelings can grow and potentially result in more serious mental health concerns.
When you prioritize mental health, this will allow the rest of your life to continue in a positive direction.
“You’re never too old to learn,” says Monea, adding that mental health is with us our entire life.
- The provincial government’s Health Link programs operate 24/7 and can be a great, low risk starting point.
- Do More Ag Foundation is a mental health platform to help producers from coast to coast, including Alberta. Visit its website to find a host of resources depending on your situation.
- The Ty Pozzobon Foundation, named after the late rodeo rider who was lost to suicide, works to support the health and mental health of western lifestyle participants.
- The Alberta Mental Health Help Line offers 24/7 support that anyone can call at 1 (877) 303-2642.
- Heard Wellness, owned and operated by Amy Monea, offers equine therapy near Carstairs. Amy is currently the only Canadian-registered social worker with a combination of a master’s level designation and an Equine Gestalt Coaching Method certification. Research has shown that horses value safety and, as a result, often attract people to them. Sessions are unique to each person, but often involve talking and interacting with a horse.
How to help a loved one
The first, and most important thing to remember is that you don’t simply just “fix” a person, Monea cautions. It is a process much like anything else and it will not be solved in one day.
If you are watching a loved one suffer, there is great benefit to speak to the person and express concern in a healthy, respectful way.
Monea suggests speaking with a person using specific language about what you notice that is different than before.
“Using ‘I’ statements is a non-combative way to bring up something that may be on your mind can help a person see your perspective such as: I’m worried about you because …,” she says.
It is hoped that the love a person has for the person suffering, may spur the individual to take the next step and seek help or begin to address some of the issues they face. If they express interest, be ready to refer them to professional resources.