Goderich-based non-profit Gateway Rural Health has launched a farmer meeting series to build grassroots mental health support networks in rural Ontario.
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The Sustaining Healthy Farms Through Empowerment and Dedication, or “SHED Talk” project, is a series of interactive discussion sessions for members of the farming community. The sessions feature speakers covering different aspects of mental health, and more specifically, the unique stressors associated with farm business operations.
They are designed to encourage participants to share personal experiences with one another, and subsequently, to keep dialogue open through regular meetings.
Why it matters: Social and physical isolation has been identified as a significant factor contributing to mental health issues across rural communities.
Becky Higgs, a Masters student in counselling psychology and a research assistant for Gateway Rural Health, says the subjects covered in each session reflect the issues identified as particularly significant in the farming industry, such as anxieties over labour, family relationships and succession planning, lack of flexibility, financial stressors, and other topics identified through literature reviews and by farmers themselves.
“We want to facilitate the first four sessions, then give farmers the resources to do this themselves, hopefully to meet monthly and continue these conversations,” says Higgs, speaking after Gateway launched the SHED Talk project in early November.
The project launch covered the importance of reducing social isolation and lessening the daily stressors common across the farm sector. Other mental health resources and wellness initiatives relevant to the agriculture sector were also identified and discussed.
The farmers at the launch heard from Tom Melady, a retired Huron County dairy farmer, who had the courage to speak about his own personal journey of dealing with agricultural life challenges.
“We have many farmers willing to host already. It’s more about reducing isolation and driving connection by getting farmers off the farm, opening a door for farmers to share personal stories,” says Higgs.
“A help line and everything is wonderful, and certainly something we’ve partnered with, but having that physical presence and conversations at the table can go a long way.
“No one knows the farm better than the farmer themselves, which makes it difficult for them to try to explain to others what it’s like being on the farm 24/7. This is why it is so important that we try to create this farmer to farmer connection so that they are able to lean on each other for support and conversation.”
Higgs said Gateway is encouraging participants to engage in a “buddy system” through the SHED Talk project, where farmers will check with one another if somebody stops coming to social gatherings.
“It’s a way to see if someone’s just been busy, or if there’s something else going on, and letting them know they’re not alone,” she said.
Gateway is in the planning stage for the initial set of SHED Talk events. Higgs is aiming to have sessions in early 2023 in different locations within Huron, Perth, Grey and Bruce counties.