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In 2022, the Government of Alberta announced multiple funding initiatives intended to improve mental health services in rural Alberta. In June of last year, it committed $6.75 million in funding over two years for Counselling Alberta, a division of the Calgary Counselling Centre. The funds allowed the immediate expansion of virtual mental health counselling services across Alberta and the expansion of affordable, in-person counselling options. This includes expansion of same-day addiction treatment through the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program.

It is a major step forward for rural counselling availability, said Sean Stanford. A Magrath area grain farmer and Alberta Barley Commission region 1 director, Stanford is also a mental health advocate. “There are a lot of statistics about how much more susceptible farmers are to anxiety, to stress, to suicide,” said Stanford. “I would say rural Alberta needs more support than urban centres do.” With so many aspects of farm production beyond an individual’s control, the more money going into rural mental health care the better, he added.

In late November 2022, the provincial government further announced it will double funding to 211, the helpline and online database of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The annual funding amount is now roughly $5 million, which is up from $2.5 million, for a total of $15 million over the next three years.

Thousands of people call 211 every month, said Colin Aitchison, senior press secretary with the province’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction. The latest funding amount will be used to address this demand.

“We are focused on strengthening in-person supports to meet increased demand, while enhancing access to virtual resources that best meet the needs of Albertans no matter where they live in the province,” said Aitchison.

While funding and the expansion of services is always appreciated, farmers must also be willing to seek help, said Megz Reynolds, executive director of the Do More Ag Foundation, a mental well-being advocacy group aimed at farmers. “What we see, especially in agriculture, the biggest challenge is someone getting to a place where they will reach out for help, or they’ll tell someone else they’re struggling and ask for them to help them get help.”

According to a 2021 University of Guelph survey, mental health within agriculture continues to worsen compared to the national average. One in four farmers surveyed reported their life was not worth living, they wished they were dead or had thought of taking their own life during the past 12 months.

High wait times for mental health support services occur across the country, said Reynolds. Do More Ag advocates for crisis lines that provide immediate, preventative help. Mental health apps such as BetterHelp can connect people to the assistance they need, she added. 

“Things have gotten worse over the last couple years with the pandemic, and we’re just starting to see some of that now,” said Reynolds. “And so check in on people. Check in on your loved ones, check in on yourself. You don’t need to be in crisis to call a crisis line.”

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