Farmers had to be tough or we wouldn’t have started farming the Prairies. This toughness is mental as well as physical. It is also lonely. And with 60 per cent of us experiencing anxiety, 36 per cent suffering from depression and over 45 per cent living with high stress it is a farm safety issue as well
Farming brings a degree of freedom that cubicle-dwelling, highway-commuting urban workers don’t have, but it also feeds a dangerous isolation that keeps farmers out of the mental health conversation.
Everything we do on the farm requires focus, a plan and our full physical and mental abilities. When our mental health is impacted so is our ability to work safely.
We love farming, or we wouldn’t do it. We have tools and technology to make the physical aspects of farming both easier and safer. We have training and technicians to ensure our equipment is up to date and ready for the hard work ahead.
But farming is also hugely taxing physically, emotionally, mentally. Not just on farmers but on their families and friends. The rewards can seem less than the cost when you’ve missed another soccer game, wedding or even a birth. When you’re too tired to be present for your spouse, your children, your family.
Farming is stressful
We can say it. Farming is stressful.
We can’t change the weather. Or the markets. Or the broken down chute.
But we can talk about it. Talking creates connection. Conversation creates community. Community is a natural support structure that our elders knew well and used fully.
There was value in visiting at the feed store or the grain elevator. That community connection allowed farmers to share common experiences and feel connected. In our higher-tech and “connected” world we have lost that intimacy and our mental health has suffered for it.
Remind your farm team that stress and mental health are valid and welcome topics to discuss. Post phone numbers and social contacts for mental health resources. Be open with your own experiences.
Build a supportive workplace where your team knows they can share and be supported. Acknowledge that their mental health is as important to your farming operation as their physical ability to do the job. Is someone distracted from the task at hand? Pull them aside for a check-in. Listen. Don’t judge. If they are unable to be safe at the task at hand tell them and move them to another job.
In season there is a hard push to get things done. Weather is rarely on your side and you have a deadline. Remember that the physical push is also a mental push. The push to stay alert, on task when you are away from your family and support structure can take a toll.
Take breaks, for safety and for connecting. Meals and coffee breaks, as well as maintenance breaks are excellent times for connecting. Listen. Encourage. Share. Let them know you get it.
Consider encouraging mental health days as part of your farm safety plan. BBQ lunch in the shop or field for the crew. Get tickets to a ball or hockey game. Bring families together for a meal and some fun for the kids. If you provide a health plan remind your crew that mental health resources are covered and to what extent. Let them know you want them to use their benefits when they need them.
Include your family and your community. Get to know your neighbors. Be involved in your community. Spend quality time with your family. Remind them they matter, and that they can talk to you. They feel and bear your stress with you, in a different way. Include them in your hurt as much as you include them in your joy.
Lead by example. One of the most powerful messages is one people can relate to. Share your story with your team, with your peers and your family. Don’t feel like you must be tough to be a good leader. A good leader can say, “This has been another tough day in a tough week. I am feeling it, you must be too. Here is what I think will help.”
Creating a workplace where mental health isn’t something to be “toughed out” but something to be talked about is another step in putting safety first.