University of Guelph Survey Will Contextualize Unique Mental Health Needs of Rural Communities and Their Residents

2 workers attend to farm crops in field

Leith Deacon, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, is leading a government-funded survey to collect data that contextualizes the unique mental health needs of rural communities and their residents.

Deacon says the survey — hitting mailboxes in north Durham, Dufferin, Elgin, Middlesex, Oxford, Bruce and Grey counties after Labour Day — will collect confidential information on demographics, individual well-being (measured through the Canadian Index of Well-being) and anxiety levels, among other concerns. Keep an eye on your mailboxes to have your voices heard.

Working on a farm can be isolating and unpredictable. With the added pressure and stress of the pandemic, some local farmers say it has become harder to cultivate good mental health.

Earlier this month, the federal and provincial governments announced more than $430,000 to fund research and initiatives to support the mental health of rural Ontarians.

“Owning and operating a farm can be very stressful. The combination of the unique challenges of farming with the additional stresses of COVID-19 have made mental health challenges for many in the farming and rural communities more difficult,” said Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson in an August media release.

“We want to encourage farmers and the farm community to help address the stigma that still surrounds mental health and to encourage people to ask for help when daily struggles become too much to bear,” said Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson Jack Sullivan in an email to the Independent.

Wendy Lantz, a counsellor with Interfaith Counselling Centre in New Hamburg, says while other industries slowed down and shifted to at-home work, many farmers had to ramp up production as they became more isolated.

“Their jobs didn’t change. They still went out to the barn every day, they still planted their fields,” said Lantz, who has run a chicken farm for 25 years. “I just see such resiliency in farmers.”

Unlike with other sectors, many agricultural workers are often physically isolated, often without reliable access to high-speed broadband internet. That means farmers may have to face issues that crop up alone.

“If you choose to be a farmer … you’re literally faced with having to do a little bit of everything,” says Bethany Klapwyk, who owns Zocalo Community Farm in nearby Hillsburgh.


By Lauren Scott Reporter, New Hamburg Independent

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