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New Provincial Mental Health Program for Farmers Created by OVC Researchers

In the Know logoA new provincial mental health program for farmers, created by experts in the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is launching this week.

Called In the Know, the program is geared toward helping farmers better identify, understand and cope with the many mental health challenges they face in their profession.

Run by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario, the program was developed by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and Dr. Briana Hagen, a post-doctoral researcher, both in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine.

“Farmers face a wide range of occupational stressors,” said Jones-Bitton. “Some of those stressors have been around for centuries, like weather, a demanding workload and finances. The research we’ve done has also shown there are newer stresses. Things like the vilification of farming and agriculture have a big impact on farmers. Intense pressure from wanting to preserve the legacy of a family farm is also a major contributor to stress.”

Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, left, and postdoctoral fellow Briana Hagen, both in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine.The program is based on previous research by Jones-Bitton that revealed farmers experience higher rates of psychological distress and mental health concerns than the general population and are also less likely to seek help.

Recent research by Jones-Bitton and Hagen has found that a lack of accessibility to mental health supports and services, mental health stigma in the agricultural community and a lack of anonymity were among the main reasons that farmers aren’t seeking the support they need.

One of the main goals of In the Know is to increase help-seeking among farmers, said Jones-Bitton.

The program is being launched in 18 agricultural areas in Ontario and will be delivered by a mental health professional with agricultural experience or with a co-facilitator from agriculture. The online half-day training session provides education on topics such as stress, depression, anxiety, substance misuse and how to start a conversation around mental health and well-being.

Jones-Bitton began working on the program in 2015 with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and matching funds from a number of agricultural organizations.

“We worked to create the In the Know training program to teach mental health literacy to people working in agriculture,” Jones-Bitton said, adding that numerous agricultural and mental health stakeholders were involved in its development. “It was very much created with farmers, for farmers.”

The program is a partnership between U of G, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and CMHA’s Ontario Division. Training is being made available through CMHA branches thanks in part to a donation from Trillium Mutual Insurance.

Read the entire article on the University of Guelph website.

Photo: Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, left, and postdoctoral fellow Briana Hagen, both in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine.