May is Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada. Covid has highlighted the importance of good mental health and its impact on our physical well-being. In this month’s issue of BuzzBuilder, learn what researchers discovered about stressors on farmers and their coping strategies.
Through in-depth interviews with 75 farmers and industry professionals, we investigated the stressors farmers in Ontario face and the ways they cope with this stress. Here are some of the findings:
Seeing the forest for the trees
One of the most common stressors farmers talked about was the all-encompassing nature of farming. Because farmers mainly talked to others involved with their farm, and spent most of their time on the farm, they described difficulty seeing life outside of farming. One of the most common coping strategies farmers endorsed was to leave the farm or find some way of separating farm work with life. Strategies ranged from taking vacations to designating the dinner table as a farm free zone, where conversations could be about anything but the farm.
The grass isn’t greener
Another source of stress was comparison between different types of farmers. Farmers compared themselves based on practices (e.g. organic, antibiotic free, conventional) farm size, and industry (e.g. supply managed). For every comparison one participant made, a different participant would make the opposite comparison, both saying the other type of farmer had it easier. One common strategy for coping with farming stress, however, was to talk to each other. Farmers found talking to each other, regardless of whether they were in the same commodity/farm type, helped them to recognize that they are not alone in facing these stresses.
Little control over physical factors but greater control over mindset
Many farmers discussed all the farming factors that cannot be controlled – the weather, the markets, government regulation and new legislation, machinery breakdown, etc. Because there is little to nothing that can be done to prevent the impacts of these factors, worry and rumination often set in. However, participants also described mindsets they adopted which helped them cope with this stress, like acceptance, looking on the bright side, and gratitude.
Of course, not all ways of coping that farmers described were positive or healthy. Alcohol use, smoking, and self-isolation were also discussed. In the 2021 Survey of Farmer Mental Health in Canada, fewer farmers used positive coping strategies and more farmers used negative coping strategies compared to the Canadian public.
The results from this research will be useful to inform stress-reduction avenues for farmers. Additional findings and resources from this work can be found at www.ajbresearch.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @ajb_research. This research also led to a study we are currently conducting, investigating Ontario farmers’ ways of coping through crises, like crop and livestock loss due to extreme weather, disease, and pests. If you or someone you know is interested in participating or would like to know more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Rochelle Thompson is a PhD student and co-operator of her family’s century chicken farm. Rochelle has an undergraduate degree in psychology and Master of Science in Epidemiology in the department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph. Her master’s work investigated farmers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, and her PhD project is investigating the impacts of extreme weather, pests, and disease on farmers’ mental health and how farmers can prepare for loss from climate related factors.