Since 2014, Alberta Farm Safety Centre has seen over 140 farmers around the province participate in the Sustainable Farm Family program.
The FSC travels with their team of registered nurses and farm facilitators to do health assessments for farming groups such as Hutterite Colonies, corporate and family farms, counties and ag societies.
“We’ll spend the day there,” said Jordan Jensen FSC executive director.
“We’ll do a work shop with them where the nurses will take a finger poke of their blood and measure everything from cholesterol to blood pressure. We do a mental health assessment, there’s a scale they stand on that tells them about viosterol fats squeezing on their metabolic age level. And then with that information, they help them understand what those numbers mean.”
Jensen said at a time like this, farmers tend to put their health on the back burner.
“They (farmers) don’t see themselves as a resource,” he said.
“They just work themselves to the bone trying to get everything done before the frost gets here and they sacrifice themselves for the good of the farm and that’s not good in the long run. They need to take time to do an assessment on their well-being. Just like a farmer before he hits a field with the combine, he’s going to do a thorough once over of his combine to make sure all the filters are good, the tires are full, oil is clean, the belts, chains (and) everything is tight and good. But they don’t ever do that for themselves.”
Mental health has become a growing trend in the past few years and a concern in the past that wasn’t very well addressed and often overlooked, added Jensen.
Jensen said people thought farmers had a great lifestyle.
However, research has shown that is not the case.
“Farmers have a very challenging lifestyle,” he said.
“They have a lot of things working against them, a lot of disadvantages that city people are completely oblivious to and all those things contribute to a challenging lifestyle and poor mental health. But over the past few years it has become more top of mind and there’s a lot more resources out there geared towards helping farmers get through these mental health challenges.”
Stress, anxiety, depression and suicide are the risks looked for during assessments.
“The most common one is stress,” said Jensen.
“But they all tend to be closely related and there’s a point where they all over lap. The stress, anxiety, depression which leads to suicide. One of the biggest contributors to that is as you mentioned environmental conditions. So, take this year for example. Farmers spent X number of dollars trying to get their crops in the ground, planted, fertilized, irrigated and growing. Then you have a drought and hail storms or whatever it might be that are completely out of the control of the farmer.”
More farmers are taking advantage of the program because in the past there was stigma around farmers not wanting to talk about their mental health.
“They thought I’m perfectly fine, I am healthy, I can do my job, I’m not going to let anybody know I’m suffering inside,” he said.
“But slowly we’re seeing more people open up, break through that stigma and be willing to get some help and share their experiences.”
Jensen said going into this year’s harvest, “Basically our message is to be mindful of your feelings and mindful of those that you work for and your loved ones because it’s sometimes one of those silent killers.
“You might look at somebody and think they’re doing great, they’re pulling through, they’re surviving a lot of challenges—but inside they’re dying just a little.”
The program is free to whoever wants to participate.
More information can be found at abfarmsafety.com or call Jensen at (403) 593-8960.