Janet Smith, Program Manager, Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services
If you farm in Manitoba there is a good chance that this year has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Spring drought, record rainfalls and an early winter snowstorm made 2019 one for the records — and not in a good way.
At the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support Services (otherwise known as The Farm Line), we’re no stranger to farm stress. This year we’ve been hearing from farmers struggling to feed their livestock, get the crop off, and make tough decisions within an increasingly volatile global market. They tell us it helps to talk to someone who listens and understands, and who can help them get ‘unstuck.’
Our callers tell us agriculture is in their blood. They love to farm, and can’t imagine doing anything else. At the same time, farm stress can be very real and, at times, debilitating. Financial worries, volatile markets, animal and crop disease, weather, family disagreements, technology and equipment breakdowns are just some of the issues farmers face on a daily basis. When stress goes on a long time, and there is no resolution in sight, it’s not unusual for normal coping mechanisms to break down. That doesn’t make you weak. It just makes you human!
Stress can affect our mind, body and emotions. Some common signs of stress include:
- Physical ailments — headaches, muscle pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, sleep problems, frequent colds and feeling ‘run down’;
- Mood changes — feeling irritable, anxious, angry, depressed, overwhelmed, or having suicidal thoughts;
- Cognitive problems — inability to concentrate, impaired decision-making, forgetfulness, and negative or ruminating
Our relationships often suffer when we are stressed, which is one reason we hear from many spouses concerned about their partners. Our loved ones know us best, so they are often the first ones to notice that you are ‘not yourself.’ Unfortunately, many farmers are reluctant to admit to themselves, let alone anyone else, that they are struggling. Farmers tend to think of themselves as strong, independent people who don’t want or need help. While this is thankfully changing, it is still hard for many farmers to open up and talk about their feelings and emotions.
For some, there is a huge stigma attached to mental health. While it is okay to talk about our physical health, many people do not look at mental health in the same way. Having depression or anxiety, for example, should not be seen any differently than a diagnosis of diabetes, yet it can go undiagnosed for years, due to stigma.
In addition to being reluctant to reach out for help, many farmers don’t know how to get help. Navigating the mental health system can be confusing, but a good place to start is with your family doctor. They can assess both your physical and mental health, offer treatment options or refer to a mental health expert. Manitoba also has a system of free crisis and non-crisis services in every RHA. Visit www.gov.mb.ca/health/mh/crisis.html for a list of what is available across the province and in your region.
Another way to reach out for help — either for yourself or a loved one — is through the Farm Line. We provide free and confidential information, support, counselling and referrals. You don’t have to share your name or where you are calling from. When you call (or chat with us online), we will listen to what is happening, help you find ways to cope in the present, and brainstorm how to manage in the future. We can even do call-outs to a person you know who may be struggling.
Counselling doesn’t have to be scary or mysterious. It is merely a way to help you sort through your thoughts and emotions and get ‘unstuck.’ That will help you, your loved one, and, ultimately, your farm. We’ve got you covered!
Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services can be reached at 1-866-367-3276 or 204-571-4180. For more information or to chat online, visit www.supportline.ca. You can also check out Klinic’s free App and website: www.calminthestormapp.com to learn how to assess and manage your stress. The MFRNSS is a program of Klinic Community Health.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, visit your nearest emergency department or call 911.