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Mental health supports for farmers

December 1, 2020

Although mental health problems are common in the general population certain groups, including farmers and veterinarians, are at higher risk. Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and her team at the University of Guelph have studied mental health in Canadian farmers and their research shows that farmers experience increased levels of adverse mental health outcomes, including stress, depression, anxiety, and burnout compared with normative populations (1). As such, veterinary professionals may encounter farmers who are behaving in a way that makes a veterinarian concerned about their well-being, such as the example in The CVJ ethical question of the month, June 2020 (2). The relationship many veterinarians have with their farming clients often extends beyond supporting animal health. These veterinarians may be uniquely positioned to recognize when farmers are under pressure and need mental health support.

Many veterinarians will feel a need to intervene that stems from their own personal values and ethics. It is important to remember that as per CVMA Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (July 2016 III b Point 8) we can reveal confidences if required by law or “it becomes necessary to protect the health and welfare of other individuals or animals.” (3). This means that if a veterinarian is concerned that someone in crisis poses a safety hazard to themselves or others, they are able to reach out for help to agencies such as the police, emergency medical services, local or provincial crisis lines, Canada Suicide Prevention Service or the Canadian Distress Line and provide the name, address, and telephone number of the client, without compromising client confidentiality.

Here are some mental health supports, resources, and training considerations. Many are specific to the farming community.

  • Canadian Suicide Support/Distress Line: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645; Canada Suicide Prevention Service (www.suicide prevention.ca) has a list of CDN crisis centers
  • 911 if an emergency (harm to self or harm to others)
  • (www.domore.ag) has a list of provincial and community mental health resources and support lines for farmers
  • MB Farm Stress Line: 1-866-367-3276; Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services (www.supportline.ca)
  • Saskatchewan Farm Stress Line: 1-800-667-4442
  • Mental Health First Aid Course (https://www.mhfa.ca/) and “In the Know” (4), which is a tailored mental health literacy course for farmers and those working with farmers, such as veterinarians, teach information and skills such as how to: Recognize mental health problems in others and themselves; Appropriately assess for risk of harm and/or suicide; Listen non-judgmentally; Give reassurance and information; and Properly refer to appropriate professional help.
  • The Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), in partnership with the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (AQPS) has created a network of “Sentinels” across Quebec (5). These Sentinels are “individuals who regularly interact with farmers who are trained to identify people at risk. Sentinels are trained to be able to recognize the early signs of distress or suicidal risk behaviors so that they can refer people to the appropriate support resources, or at least ensure a link between those vulnerable people and the aid resources in their area. Since 2016, 637 Sentinels have been trained, many of them farmers and professionals who regularly work with farmers, such as veterinarians and agronomists (5).

References

1. Jones-Bitton A, Best C, MacTavish J, Fleming S, Hoy S. Stress, anxiety, depression, and resilience in Canadian farmers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 2020;55:229–236.

2. Ethical question of the month. Can Vet J 2020;61:574.

3. Bourque T, Horney B. Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the CVMA. July 2016. Available from: https://www.canadianveterinarians. net/documents/principles-of-veterinary-medical-ethics-of-the-cvma Last accessed September 29, 2020.

4. Hagen BN, Harper SL, O’Sullivan TL, Jones-Bitton A. Tailored mental health literacy training improves mental health knowledge and confidence among Canadian farmers. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020;17:3807.

5. UPA — Sentinel Program. Available from: https://www.cfa-fca.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2019/02/UPA-profile.pdf Last accessed September 29, 2020