COPING WITH THE HARVEST FROM HELL
BY IAN DOIG
Widely dubbed the harvest from hell, the difficult 2019/20 crop year has complicated the lives of Alberta farmers. While hard times weigh heavily, they have produced a growing awareness of mental health issues within agriculture. Producer groups advocate for awareness as farmers and rural communities have opened up, actively embracing the once largely taboo subject. Where individuals were expected to cope on their own with issues such as anxiety and depression, this is no longer so.
Warren Sekulic operates a mixed farm near Rycroft in central Peace Country and is Alberta Wheat Commission region 5 director. His area was particularly hard hit by early snow, and he said the local stress level is high.
“Whether it’s market issues or weather, it just seems to be one damned thing after another. There’s uncertainty over what the value’s going to be in the crop we get and whether or not we’re going to be able to market what we have. That closure is important. It’s weighing on a lot of people. It’s weighing on me.”
Though he hasn’t heard much discussion among farmers about coping with the mental health fallout, he welcomes the attention the issue has received from farm organizations and advocacy groups such as the Do More Agriculture Foundation. “The fact we’re talking about it in agriculture is a huge step forward. Farmers see ourselves as these stoic, independent, get-it-done people, but it comes a point for some people where you have to realize you can’t do it all on your own. You have to talk to somebody.”
Nicholas Mitchell, Alberta Health Services director for addiction and mental health agrees. “One reason to reach out for help is we can actually do something about it,” he said “People who are struggling with anxiety and depression can feel like there’s no hope or things can’t change. The reality is treatments are very effective.” Most people can be treated by a family physician and may not require specialized services, he added.
While anxiety and depression are common, they can also hamper a person’s ability to fulfil obligations and interact with others. Like Sekulic, Mitchell encourages people to reach out if they’re suffering and to assist others as well. “To have that conversation, make it clear you’re trying to help, that you’re concerned.” Doing so may lead to natural solutions or, ahead of contacting healthcare services, perhaps groups such as community agencies and churches can provide support, he said.
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Alberta Health Services provides addictions and mental health services across the province, maintaining clinics in more than 135 rural communities. Many are staffed by therapists who can provide assessments and intervention counselling and possibly referrals for more intensive services.
For assistance with mental health concerns, advice on assisting others or to locate a clinic, provincial mental health nurses are available 24 hours a day through Health Link by dialing 811. Callers can also access the Alberta Mental Health Help Line toll free at 1-877-303-2642.
A full list of Alberta Health Services addiction and mental health programs and services is available at
For more information on The Do More Agriculture Foundation and a list of nationwide mental health resources, visit domore.ag.
To listen to The GrainsWest Podcast episodes “Reaching Out” and “Coping with the Harvest from Hell,” click on the podcast link at grainswest.com, visit iTunes or download them wherever you access your podcasts. For Android users, visit Google Play, download the Google podcast app and search “GrainsWest Podcast.”