Mental health literacy program a step closer to reality

Fall 2019 pilot project results currently being analyzed to prepare final version

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Participant surveys of the “In The Know” mental health literacy program pilot project held last fall across Ontario are now being analyzed.

The program is part of an ongoing mental health project that University of Guelph has been working on for several years.

Why it matters: Agriculture is a high-stress industry, yet few mental health resources are available due to the rural nature of the work, where fewer supports exist. More information is needed to better tackle key issues.

In The Know highlights education for producers and industry individuals in agriculture. It discusses terminology around mental health, how to recognized mental health issues in one’s self or peers, and strategies to handle these situations.

It’s the first of its kind in Canada.

The program was developed through the University of Guelph, with Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and PhD candidate, Briana Hagen, while being informed by a stakeholder working group consisting of agriculture producers and industry workers.

Briana Hagen.
photo: Supplied

“We came to know that farmers were wanting to get more knowledge about mental health, and (they) were hoping there would be some services or information available to them through an agricultural lens,” says Hagen.

Collecting survey and qualitative data to analyze mental health literacy within agriculture, understanding the void needed to be filled and creating the program has been a three-year process.

Andrea De Groot, managing director with Ontario Pork Industry Council, is part of the stakeholder working group informing Jones-Bitton and Hagen of the factors that can contribute to poor mental health in agriculture.

“We come together every six months and give (Jones-Bitton and Hagen) feedback on the terminology and documents they have, and how it relates to the stress happening in agriculture at that time as many different issues in agriculture will come up in that time frame,” says De Groot.

Pilot project sessions took place in six locations across Ontario, delivering the program as it was at that point.

De Groot helped to organize one of the seminars which was held last October in Stratford.

Andrea DeGroot.
photo: Supplied

“They tried to move it around (Ontario) to get lots of different agricultural areas and perspectives so it wasn’t just central to one particular area or group,” says De Groot.

Surveys were completed before the literacy program, right after it and three and six months following.

“The pre- and post-survey data is to make sure the program is effective. Is it increasing knowledge? Is it changing behaviours and beliefs? Are people feeling more confident in talking about mental health?” says Hagen.

The seminars were informal, small and interactive to ensure good dialogue among participants and administrators.

“The program highlights why mental health is an issue that we need to deal with in agriculture; it put terminology and structure in recognizing that people in agriculture have slightly greater mental health stress than the general public,” says DeGroot.

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Trade negotiations, weather, pests and diseases all play a part in the agriculture world, which creates uncertainty and stress affecting mental health.

“We saw (stress) in our industry, we felt it, and we knew from a number of years ago we wanted to have some increased capability and access for people to get mental health resources,” says De Groot.

Hagen and Debbie Van Berkel, a health-care professional and farmer, administered the program to all six pilot projects.

Farmer-focused mental health resources delivered by agriculture-aware professionals puts Ontario at an advantage compared to other programs across the country.

“[Debbie] used terms and scenarios that were specific to the agriculture world, building credibility to the team, when talking about the kind of stresses they have,” says De Groot.

The survey process ended June 30 and results are being reviewed to best target what the agriculture industry needs from mental health resources.

Once the information is analyzed, the goal is to offer the content online and in person. More information is expected this fall.

Organizers say the need for a program focused on agriculture is important because the stress experience in agriculture is different from other industries and life situations.

“I think it’s important that projects like this continue to move forward because this is an issue, and we need support and resources. It’s great that (mental health) has gotten a lot of media attention recently but I feel like we need to have meaningful and tangible training provided to producers and the industry,” says
De Groot.

About the author


Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.



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