Province increases funding for farming mental health

People ‘In the Know’ applauded the Ontario government’s increased financial support for the agriculture-based mental health program.

Lisa Thompson, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), announced more than $385, 000 in funding to expand the ag-based mental health literacy program ‘In the Know,’ improving the program’s reach and quality. 

“I think it’s great to see,” said Mark Reusser, vice-president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “I think you’ll see a significant uptake by the farming population as this is something that we’ve needed for a long time. This is beginning to fulfill that need.”

Why it matters: Tailored to address the mental health needs within the agricultural community, In the Know seeks to break down barriers and stigma that hinder access to life-saving resources for the farming community in rural Ontario.

Reusser, a Waterloo County farmer, said research from the University of Guelph confirms farmers face higher rates of anxiety, depression, stress and burnout, but have lower than average resilience and coping skills, making them vulnerable to workplace stress.

“(In the Know) is designed to help farmers cope with the stresses of running a farm and looking after their mental health,” said Reusser. “More importantly, it teaches farmers how to start the conversation about their mental health and to ask questions when they are unsure.”

OFA field staff are available to assist Ontario facilitators with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) deliver the training with agricultural examples and context to better position the program within the farming community.

“This farm credibility is big. Farmers are more likely to listen to other farmers,” he said. “It helps reduce the stigma and isolation. It’s a safe and flexible way to provide rural Ontario with the mental health support that it needs.”

The In the Know program is currently offered at 16 CMHA branches in rural and agriculture communities by approximately 30 facilitators. The increased funding ensures facilitators will be available in all 28 branches and improve access to mental health supports and help connect the farm community with local resources and supports.

“In a year unlike any other, there has been an increased demand for more mental health services and supports that address the unique needs of Ontario’s farming community,” said Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Through the expansion of the In the Know program, more Ontarians in the agricultural sector will have targeted, reliable access to the highest quality mental health care that they expect and deserve.”

Minister Thompson said she knows firsthand how the weather events of the summer have increased mental health strains for many farmers.

The “Tuesday Tornadoes” that ripped through Huron and Bruce Counties early in September reduced Thompson’s cornfields to “toothpicks with cobs hanging off of them.”

“It impacts our annual farm income if those toothpicks fall to the ground and those cobs are hard to retrieve during harvest,” Thompson said, adding farmers in Northern Ontario have also faced strain from drought and impact to livestock.

Thompson said the early success of the In the Know pilot program made asking for increased funding an easy sell because of the incredible return on investment.

“This has been a particularly difficult year-and-a-half for farmers. In addition to normal stressors  – including the changing weather, commodity prices, pests and disease – farmers have had to deal with the added complexities of COVID-19,” she said. “Our investment to expand the In the Know program will help more people in the province’s farming community access the support they need when they need it. “