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Lower prices can bring lower moods

Farmers are resilient, but depression on the farm is no laughing matter

Instead of blaming arthritis for your aching joints, you may want to point your finger at the economy, according to researchers.

“Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure,” Dr. Eileen Chou said in a press release.

Chou, a University of Virginia professor, led a team looking at links between economic insecurity and physical pain. The research, recently published in Psychological Science, found personal unemployment and state-level insecurity were linked to more over-the-counter painkiller use, as well as people’s own reports of pain.

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Researchers also tested this link in the lab. They asked people to plunk their hands into a bucket of ice water, while thinking about either a stable or uncertain job market. Those who were thinking about entering a stable job market tolerated the icy water longer than those thinking about economic instability.

Chou and her colleagues concluded that how much a person feels in control of her life helps explain that discrepancy in pain tolerance. That feeling of control has implications beyond bank account sums, too.

It gives a whole new meaning to comments about the oil patch hurting.

As soon as I read about this research, I couldn’t help wondering how much this might affect the farming community. I dug up a 1993 Senate Committee interim report on farm stress.

The report stated that, “most witnesses saw unstable and adverse economic conditions as the most significant (source) in relation to farmers’ health and safety.” The report noted physical signs of stress such as headaches, fatigue and backaches. Stressed farmers were also more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as increased alcohol use, sleep disturbances, and more arguments with family and friends.

In 1993, farmers had suffered several years of adverse markets, high input costs, and a generally unstable market situation. Right now, farm debt levels are high, but farmers had a few good years of crop prices. We’re always hearing that today’s farmer is more business-savvy than ever before, so perhaps most people can manage those debt levels.

Yet no one can control the weather, or the markets for that matter. A person can manage those risks a dozen different ways, but no one can eliminate them.

Given all that, I wonder if Tylenol sales jump in small towns when canola prices drop.

There’s a culture of stoicism in agriculture, which makes sense. You can’t call in sick when you have to feed cows or harvest grain, after all. But rural residents face the same mental health challenges as city dwellers. Living on a farm isn’t going to protect you from depression, anxiety, or anything else.

And, as much as I dislike some of Sinclair Ross’ writing, I have to admit he was right about one thing: Rural living can mean more physical isolation. For those of us who grew tired of hearing neighbours’ argue in our apartment building, this is not all bad. But it is bad if you’re depressed and can hardly find the energy to make an appointment, let alone drive into town.

But there are options. Many, if not all, health regions in Sask­atchewan have psychologists, social workers and other therapists available. For people who don’t want to drive into town, there are 1-800 numbers. In Saskatchewan, Mobile Crisis Services has a farm stress line, along with credit counselling and other services (see mobilecrisis.ca). Farmers or farm spouses who have off-farm jobs might also have employee assistance programs that provide all kinds of services to the employee and family.

At some point, we all run into big problems. We make bad decisions. Things happen to us that are outside of our control. It can be overwhelming.

But there are always ways to keep forging ahead. If you’ve reached a point where you can’t see that, it’s time to ask for help.


Call these numbers

If you or someone you know needs help, there is help on hand at the other end of your phone line. Here are some numbers to call.

Manitoba:
In Manitoba, call the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line at 1-866-367-3276 from Monday to Friday 10 am to 9 pm. After hours, call 1-888-322-3019 or visit www.ruralsupport.ca.

Alberta:
Alberta has a hotline open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call the Alberta Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.

Saskatchewan:
In Saskatchewan, call the Mobile Crisis Helpline at (306) 757-0127, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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