Developed by researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the University of Guelph (U of G), ‘In the Know’ aims to help farmers better identify, understand, and cope with the unique mental health challenges they face in their profession.
The initiative, which is run by the Ontario division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA Ontario) in partnership with U of G and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), was developed by Andria Jones-Bitton, DVM, PhD, and Briana Hage, PhD, both faculty members of U of G’s department of population medicine. It is based on previous research, conducted by Dr. Jones-Bitton, which revealed farmers experience higher rates of psychological distress than the general population and are less likely to seek help.
Additionally, recent research by Jones-Bitton and Dr. Hagen found a lack of accessibility to mental health services, mental health stigma in the agricultural community, and a lack of anonymity were among the main reasons farmers are not seeking the support they need.
“Farmers face a wide range of occupational stressors,” Jones-Bitton says. “Some of those stressors have been around for centuries, like weather, a demanding workload, and finances. The research we’ve done has also shown there are newer stresses. Things like the vilification of farming and agriculture have a big impact on farmers. Intense pressure from wanting to preserve the legacy of a family farm is also a major contributor to stress.”
The program is being launched in 18 agricultural areas across the province and will be delivered by mental health professionals with agricultural experience or with a co-facilitator from agriculture, U of G says. The online half-day training session offers education on topics such as stress, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse, as well as advice for how to start conversations related to mental health and well-being.
“CMHA Ontario is honoured and thrilled to be launching In the Know through CMHA branches around the province,” says the group’s CEO, Camille Quenneville. “We know this program will give the agricultural community the opportunity to discuss mental health openly and safely. We strongly believe that In the Know, with its farming-specific scenarios that put mental health into perspective for agriculture workers, will resonate well with this community and improve lives as a result.”
Jones-Bitton began working on the program in 2015 with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and matching funds from a number of agricultural organizations, U of G reports.
“We worked to create the In the Know training program to teach mental health literacy to people working in agriculture,” she says. “It was very much created with farmers, for farmers.”
For more information, click here.