Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we will commence our study on mental health challenges that Canadian farmers, ranchers, and producers face.
We welcome this morning the following witnesses: Mr. Alain d'Amours, the General Director of Contact Richelieu-Yamaska, Mr. Martin Caron, First Vice-president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, and Mr. Pierre-Nicolas Girard, a mental health consultant who will be talking to us via video link.
Mr. Girard, can you hear me?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
I will speak first and then it will be Mr. Girard's turn.
I will start by quickly describing what is the UPA, the Union des producteurs agricoles. The UPA represents 41,406 farmers and 30,000 forestry producers in Quebec. Our network is comprised of 12 regional federations as well as 26 affiliated or specialized groups.
Psychological distress is a real problem in the farming sector, indeed it is a huge problem. The ever-increasing need for investments and the heavy regulatory burden are some of the many factors at play.
Farmers are grappling with financial uncertainty. I believe everyone here knows about the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, which will have repercussions. Another source of distress is the lack of workers, as well as finding a work-life balance with conflicting work and family obligations.
We have to look at the problem holistically and take into account farmers' working conditions. This is very important. The psychosocial and healthcare services that are offered to this group will also have to be adapted.
We are making three sets of recommendations. I will start with the first and then Mr. Girard will talk to you about the two others.
These recommendations are primarily about prevention and are based on socioeconomic factors as well as health promotion measures.
On the prevention front, we recommend programs that will support the transfer of farms to the next generation. This is very important for tax planning purposes, and something must be done.
We propose developing a recruitment and training strategy in order to have a competent workforce, which includes foreign workers.
We also recommend simplifying administrative documents. As you know, the complexity of government programs means that our members are spending more time and energy filling out paperwork. In many instances, people give up.
We also would like to see compensation measures that are tailored to the realities of farming and limit the economic impact of commercial accords on farm business margins.
Moreover, we hope to see a risk management program which would deal with climate change. In Quebec right now, we're suffering from a drought. We need programs that are current and provide help and advice.
Finally, we need a national professional training and support strategy for farmers. These two aspects are also very important.
I would now ask Mr. Girard to continue.
Allow me to introduce myself. I have been with the Union des producteurs agricoles for 47 years, 43 of which as a permanent member. For the last four years I have been working as a consultant on mental health issues.
Over the course of my career, I have regularly seen cases of terrible mental distress and farmers with suicidal thoughts. Sadly, some of these thoughts were put into action. This has been my motivation in continuing my work with the UPA.
Mr. Caron mentioned our three sets of recommendations. We based them on various studies on the farming sector that are available for consultation, should you wish to do so. The main one is Enquête sur la santé psychologique des producteurs agricoles du Québec, a study on farmers' mental health conducted in 2016 by Ginette Lafleur and Marie-Alexia Allard. The authors examined 78 cases of farmers who had taken their own lives; more than half had sadly been diagnosed as suffering from mental health problems. We concluded that we must improve access to services and tailor them to farmers, which brings me to our second set of recommendations.
Let's go back to the recommendation on improving psychosocial and healthcare services. The community as well as the healthcare sector have to understand the realities of farming. To that end, we suggest that the Canadian Mental Health Association develop a program for farmers. As you can see, our recommendations are always based on the realities of farming, such as lifestyle, work hours, and the unending pressure on our members to be more productive.
We are also recommending a prevention strategy based on promoting health and a better work-life balance. This year, we have chosen to promote work-life balance. Agriculture is a vocation, and farmers are passionate people who regularly work more than the recommended amount of hours. They are often forced to, of course, but they also do it because of their passion. We seek to promote a better work-life balance for farmers.
Then there's the issue of public healthcare and psychosocial services across Canada. Access to these services is fairly good in our cities and suburbs, but in many regions in Quebec, and I presume elsewhere in Canada, it is quite difficult to get decent services.
Contact Richelieu-Yamaska is a crisis intervention centre serving the entire population. We are in the Saint-Hyacinthe region, which is home to many farmers.
Over the years, the public image of farmers has changed. In the past, they were thought of as people with little education, and later as people with a lot of money. Now, farmers are considered bothersome because their machinery is too slow on the roads. All that to say that the public image of farmers is not very positive, which definitely plays a role in their distress.
Let me give you a few examples of what we see at our crisis intervention centre. When someone calls us, it is because they are at the end of their rope and are contemplating suicide. People call us to say they can't take it anymore and that death is their only way out.
Consider for example the man who got his arm caught in his machinery. For a farmer, losing an arm is very serious, because they feel they can no longer work. The man went to the hospital and killed himself there. No one was able to intervene. His wife had to come to terms with this, and I worked with her. To top it all off, she could not even attend his burial because she had to milk the cows.
It is a different kind of work, a different world. That is what you have to understand. That is what the public has to understand. That is what the health system has to understand. It is the system that needs to adapt to farmers, and not the other way around. Farmers work a lot. They call us when they can, and we have to answer when they call. We have to help them when they call, help them find other solutions.
Someone told me that his great-great-grandfather had given some land to his great-grandfather, who left it to his grandfather, from whom he inherited it, but he was going to lose it because he had run out of money. Suicide was his only option because there would be insurance money. It is not easy coaxing someone away from the edge of the cliff. This person was going to lose not only his farm, but also his identity, and he would become a failure to his family. That gives you an idea of what we are dealing with.
There are other examples that people do not think of. In our area, we just have volunteer firefighters, and they are often farmers. Someone in Saint-Hyacinthe fell into a manure pit recently and died from it. It was his fellow farmers who pulled him out of the pit. Imagine their shock! They pulled their friend out of a manure pit. Is there a worse way to die? They were in a very sorry state.
All these people go through traumatic events. They need help. We have been able to help them, but we need structures and the resources to meet their needs quickly so we can help them deal with their suffering before their distress is too great. These farmers are hurting and they are often at risk of suicide.
In cases of suicide in farming communities, it is not just the deceased, but everyone around them that suffers. I have talked to farmers' sons and daughters, and it takes a tremendous toll on them. In farming, the father is often seen as the role model and the strong person in the family. The children say that if their father could not tough it out, they would also have to commit suicide since they are weaker than him. It is that self-perception that we have to address in our work. It is difficult. We need to work with the health networks.
Next week, you will be meeting representatives of Au coeur des familles agricoles, an organization we work with. In many cases, we start working with their clients when they become suicidal. We are equipped to do that, we can accommodate them or see them at home; we can support them. Once farmers reach that point, it is borderline. The suicide rate among farmers is 20% to 30% higher than in the rest of the workforce, which proves that it is a different world.
I will stop now so you can ask your questions.
Thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.
I'm Andria Jones-Bitton. I'm an associate professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, and my area of research focus is farmer mental health. I understand that some of you in the room are farmers.
I think we've known about the issues with farmer mental health for generations, but they haven't been talked about because of the culture in agriculture and the taboo in the agricultural community. For various reasons, that's now changing, and the agricultural community is talking.
You now have a prime opportunity to act, because we can't have a sustainable food system in Canada if we don't have sustainable farmers. I genuinely believe the federal government can help strengthen Canadian agriculture, and I would like you to consider three recommendations: one, support a Canadian network for farmer mental health; two, provide a federal funding stream for farmer mental health research; and three, support evidence-based training programs for agriculture and Canada's agricultural and veterinary colleges.
Why do I make these recommendations? Out of growing concerns for our farmers, I conducted a survey of farmer mental health in 2015. This was originally intended to be a small pilot study of Ontario livestock producers, but because of requests from other provinces and other commodities, we extended it nationally. This speaks to the desires of Canada's agricultural community to talk about farmer mental health. The survey measured five mental health outcomes using validated psychometric scales, and over 1,100 farmers from across Canada in all commodity groups participated.
Regrettably, our anecdotal concerns were confirmed. Forty-five per cent of our farmers scored in the high stress category; 58% met the scale's definition for anxiety, and 35% met the definition for depression. Burnout was also a concern in our farmers. Burnout is measured on three subscales: high emotional exhaustion, high cynicism and low professional efficacy. Finally, resilience is a state of being that promotes wellness and decreases the impacts of stress. Unfortunately, two-thirds of our farmers scored lower than the U.S. general population. This leaves them highly vulnerable to the effects of chronic stress, anxiety, depression and suicide.
Poor mental health in farmers is a concern for the individual farmer, but it extends beyond that. It also impacts farm families, their livestock, their production and their businesses. We don't yet have specific estimates of the impacts of mental health on farming outcomes—this is something my team is working on—but extrapolating from what we do know, we can expect it to limit farm production and be a major barrier to growth and innovation. Canada wants to boost its agricultural exports from $30 billion to $50 billion to $75 billion, and innovative technologies will certainly help with this, but we will absolutely need healthy farmers to achieve this goal.
Poor farmer mental health is also a threat to animal welfare. Our research confirms that farmers who are mentally unwell are often unable to adequately care for their animals, even though this is important to them. Major animal welfare incidents are related to mental illness.
Canada boasts a strong reputation in agriculture, and people like Canada's agricultural brand. We need to support farmer mental health to protect this reputation. We also need to consider the high risks of burnout. Burnout results in high job turnover and poor retention. You've heard farmers complain about the inability to retain good farm help, and younger farmers share doubts about taking over the family farm, because they've watched their parents struggle for years.
We need to increase farmer wellness and resilience. Farmers experience a huge range of stresses, and we won't ever be able to completely eliminate the stresses that farmers experience, but we can help farmers build their resilience to boost their ability to bounce back from challenges and thrive. Resilience is a skill that can be learned, and benefits of wellness include improvements to health, productivity and retention, but we need to make sure that we are providing evidence-informed training programs that work. If there's one thing I've learned from my work with farmers, it's that you usually get one shot, and if we waste farmers' time, we risk not getting them back to the table.
We don't have a national strategy in place for farmer mental health in Canada. This leaves our farmers and our ag sector highly vulnerable. Interest in farmer mental health is growing across Canada. We must avoid duplication of efforts and maximize our resources. A Canadian network for farmer mental health would allow for coordinated efforts across the country.
Through participatory action research, it would produce practical research that farmers actually want, effective training programs that farmers will actually use, and would help implement wellness and training curricula for students in agricultural and veterinary colleges, so that we can train people early. To do this, we need to create a transdisciplinary network across all provinces and territories and produce the resources that are specific for agriculture and delivered by people who know agriculture. By doing this, we help strengthen our farmers, our agricultural sector and help them be poised for growth and innovation.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all very much for your testimony. We do not have much time and parliamentarians have a lot of questions about this. That is why we wanted to leave more time to ask you questions.
I have two quick questions for you. Would it be possible to get a copy of your presentation? I see that you are reading from your notes. It would be helpful for us to have them too, since we did not have time to hear your full testimony. We would appreciate it if you could send them to the committee.
Mr. Chair, based on what I have heard this morning, the importance of this study, and the importance of talking about the mental health of farmers, all the committee members will agree with me that this study should be televised so we can discuss it in front of Canadians. Would it be possible to do that for the rest of the study? People beyond the farming community need to hear about this. We have to explain to all Canadians the problems that farmers face.
Returning to your testimony, Mr. d'Amours, you said that the public perception of farmers is not improving, unfortunately. We have a unique opportunity to focus on farmers and their problems.
Mr. Chair, would it be possible to take the necessary steps for this study to be televised?
I will then ask for consent.
Do we have consent that it's when available, because there are only two
television crews. Once they are available, we will make a request.
Are we all good with that? Okay.
All the documents will be available, but we still need translation. Those in French have to be translated into English and
The English ones will be translated.
They will be distributed to everyone.
Mr. Drouin, do you have a question?
I want to thank all the witnesses.
You know that it's a subject that affects me deeply. I was once president of Au coeur des familles agricoles.
I'll try to get straight to the point, since I want many answers to large number of questions, just like Mr. Berthold earlier.
People who come from outside the agriculture world aren't familiar with the business. People often ask farmers what makes them different from entrepreneurs.
We spoke earlier business transfers. The same thing applies to entrepreneurship. The labour force and work-life balance are also issues in other businesses.
For the benefit of the committee and the public, I want to know what makes you different from entrepreneurs.
I'm a dairy and grain farmer in Louiseville. Like my father, I was born into the farming business. You must understand that our business is our baby. Our land is our baby. There's an emotional aspect, which has already been mentioned.
This emotional aspect sets us apart. We were born and raised among the animals, on the land, and so on. It's very much a family bond. When farmers say that their business it their baby, the reason is that they're willing to ask a veterinarian to come when one of their animals is sick. When mechanical issues arise or the soil needs our attention, we do what is necessary. However, when it comes to mental or psychological health, the farmers come second, since they prioritize their business, their baby. This aspect makes farmers different from other entrepreneurs. It affects us deeply.
We spoke earlier about the intergenerational aspect. When a farm has been around for four or five generations, we want to continue to operate it. We left our mark on the land, and we saw our parents and grandparents do the same thing. We want to follow their lead, and we hope that another generation will take over.
That's why it's important to properly adapt the services and programs.
Thank you for the question.
All things considered, we must ensure that the programs are well adapted to farmers. There must be a federal and provincial network. It's not enough to invest in programs. The programs must also be adapted to the real risks.
Risk management is having an increasingly significant impact on climate, economic and political issues. We're currently seeing this in politics concerning the NAFTA negotiations. There's a great deal of stress in farm businesses, and the programs must be adapted accordingly.
In terms of mental health, our recommendation is in line with Ms. Jones-Bitton's recommendation concerning research and investment. An investment isn't an expense. We must invest and establish a national round table to discuss mental health, in which organizations such as ours would participate, to ensure that the services meet the needs of farmers.
I think what my colleagues have discussed has been very important. I think it's really important, and the way to get farmers involved is through participatory action research. You have them at the table at the beginning, and you develop your priorities with farmers at the table because, otherwise, you're right that you're not going to get there.
Our farmers said that they're not coming in for two days. We already have a great program that's two days. We asked how many hours would be good for them. Now we have a four-hour version and an eight-hour version.
You bring the farmers around the table. They're there. They're ready to speak. It's just that nobody has bothered to ask them.
Absolutely, as Monsieur Caron has said, we need custom, tailored approaches.
Our colleagues in Manitoba have a rural call-in line. The first two questions they are asked by farmers when they call in are, “Is this confidential?“ and, “Are you a farmer?”
Too many people have built up the courage, in their words, to go and seek help, and then they get told something like, “You need to go home and take two weeks off.” They don't come back. We lose them at that point because people don't understand agriculture.
Thank you, everybody, for your presentations and your commitment to this topic.
Andria, back in May, I met with you in Guelph, and you were talking about the work you'd done on research. Since then, you've launched the In The Know program.
In this morning's discussion, there was an interesting comment about “Is this confidential? Are you a farmer?” I heard the same question when I was working with veterans in Guelph. The veterans say you can't understand the path they've come down as a veteran unless you're a veteran.
In 2017, we committed $5 billion over 10 years towards mental health with the provinces and territories. We've also committed money to veterans, to indigenous services, in terms of mental health.
You mentioned to me about a national centre of excellence that could be focused on farms. Could you expand on that a little and whether we involve farmers in their communities, maybe through their churches or their associations? How can we reach the farmer through the places where farmers normally gather and have those types of discussions around mental health?
One is that there definitely is a need for custom tailored supports. We can't just take existing models and apply them to farmers for numerous reasons that have been discussed.
The stresses that farmers face are unique. Yes, other small business owners—not that farming is a small business in a lot of cases—experience stresses as well, but I would argue not to the extent of the different types of stresses that farmers experience. It has come up a couple of times that people don't understand agriculture.
One of the things that struck me, which I frankly wasn't expecting when I did the national survey, was that farmers feel scrutinized. They feel attacked by the public, anti-agriculture groups, people who don't understand farming who are speaking out openly. You can make fun of me as a professor, and I can go home and I have a whole bunch of other stuff to my sense of identity. Farmers don't have that. Their occupation is their identity; it's their culture, their history, what have you.
Yes, we absolutely need tailored resources. How do we reach them? I think the best thing to do is to ask farmers that question. I think the sentinel program in Quebec is fabulous. I've only just recently learned of it. It's things like that.
We have things going on in Manitoba that are great. If I may say, we have things coming out of Guelph that are great. We need to better understand what everybody is doing, so we are not leaving anybody unprotected and unprepared.
I think it's really important that the provinces come together and that there is federal leadership in this so that we can take a systematic approach to it.
Right. There's a great model that looks at a curve. The middle bit is nice. It's yellow or orange in colour. That's where stress drives us and our production is high. We're focused. We're motivated. We want to get going.
There's a green area that's low stress. That's bad. Low stress means our production is low because we're not motivated.
The problem is too many of us are living over in the red zone. In the red zone we have fatigue, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, and burnout. If you look at production levels at that point, our productivity is actually lower.
Your friend who thrives on that high stress, I would say, is doing well with that. Unfortunately, too many of us are in that red zone and are not.
Thank you very much to the committee for taking time to discuss an issue that I think hasn't been discussed nearly enough for a number of years.
I don't think I need to give you much background on the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, but just so you know, we do represent farmers from right across the country.
As you know, agriculture is a unique, high-risk industry that requires dealing with volatility and uncertainty beyond your control, and often operating in remote, isolated locations. Whether it's markets, weather, disease or cash flow challenges, producers bear immense burdens and have learned from previous generations and broader societal expectations to deal with these burdens quietly on their own.
That is why I’m so pleased to be here today. Talking frankly about mental health challenges in public forums like this is one more step in the long process of breaking down the barriers that prevent farmers from talking about stress, anxiety and mental well-being in the same way we do about physical health. In an industry with so much opportunity, and such a wonderful sense of community and entrepreneurship, we can and must do better in helping those amongst us in dealing with mental health stress.
Personally, I’ve actually dealt with my own struggles on this front. In the early 1980s when my wife Cathy and I were early in our farming career, we were hit with the extremely high interest rates of that period. While I did not recognize it at the time, looking back now I realize I was getting very close to a period of depression. I could not sleep. It was difficult to make decisions. It seemed like my world was spinning out of control.
We were lucky. We had an agricultural extension person who recognized that a number of young farmers were in the same place. He set up a series of meetings where we were given the tools to help us cope financially and the conversations to help us walk through the issues. In my mind it is an example of how home, business and family are all connected in addressing mental illness issues at the farm level. The early intervention, mostly from a business perspective in my case, was likely responsible for avoiding what could have been a much more serious issue.
More recently in my role at CFA, I’ve heard very clearly from farm leaders across Canada that too many producers continue to suffer in silence, until it’s too late. In response, our organization coordinated a symposium this February on mental health in agriculture, bringing together mental health practitioners, researchers, producers and industry representatives from across Canada to discuss two key topics: first, building a common understanding of farmer mental health; and second, reviewing the state of mental health initiatives taking place in Canadian agriculture.
We heard the same concerning statistics that Dr. Jones-Bitton presented earlier today, alongside stories of lost productivity, suicidal thoughts and animal welfare issues arising due to untreated mental health issues. Following that, we heard from service providers and farm groups across Canada on the measures they’ve taken, including farm support lines, mental health first aid and access to paid-for counselling.
It was great to see diverse, exciting projects across Canada targeting this issue, but we noted four key takeaways.
First, mental health support needs to begin well before suicide prevention. Suicide is unfortunately far too prevalent, but it is an extreme outcome that’s avoidable with earlier intervention. We can’t wait until it’s too late.
Second, farmers need support services tailored to the farm sector. Calling in and speaking with someone who has no knowledge of what farming entails can lead to further isolation and be perceived as a lack of meaningful support.
Third, many of the initiatives were provincial in scope, with little knowledge of those activities outside the province. At CFA, this is a point of concern because it highlights the missed opportunities to build on best practices and truly ensure farmers across Canada have access to the supports they need.
Finally, initiatives are struggling to find sustainable funding. Across the board, we heard that they were struggling to maintain their services. Many were questioning whether they could continue to provide their services, while wishing they could do more. Increased funding for mental health supports, both federally and provincially, are critical.
At the conclusion of this symposium, we were pleased to announce an MOU with the Do More Agriculture Foundation on two fronts.
The first was a new CFA award, which we will shortly be unveiling called the Brigid Rivoire Memorial Award for Best Practices in Mental Health, which will celebrate individuals and organizations making a difference in mental health through a donation, promotions to tell their story and an award given out at our annual meeting.
As many of you know, Brigid was executive director at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture from 2001 to 2015. She was always known for wanting to help others in need, and was a very caring and giving person. She passed away in 2017, just as CFA was developing this program to help spread awareness of and address mental health issues in agriculture.
The second commitment with Do More Agriculture was to raise funds for research in agricultural mental health, which we continue to explore.
The fragmentation I mentioned earlier is one of the reasons we’re still exploring how to support research in this area. It’s difficult to assess where funding should be directed, what research is under way, and where dollars are needed. That’s why CFA would join Dr. Jones-Bitton in calling for the Government of Canada to support establishing a Canadian network of farmer mental health to coordinate efforts, ensure practical research is undertaken to develop meaningful supports and ultimately see agricultural and veterinary colleges adopting curricula on mental health wellness and resilience.
Hello. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your committee.
I want to thank the member of Parliament for Shefford, Pierre Breton, who responded to my letter in less than 24 hours by giving me a call, which I truly appreciated.
My name is Pierre Beaulieu, and I'm the Chief Executive Officer of Groupe Leader Plus.
Let me tell you a bit about my background. I grew up in the business world. I spent 10 years in the family bakery and 10 years in an automotive parts distribution company with Esso and Chrysler Canada. I led the Groupement des chefs d'entreprise du Québec for 30 years and other groups in New Brunswick and Europe. Under my leadership, the number of members rose from 130 to 2,000, and the number of groups increased from 10 to 235.
My personal mission is to bring together leaders to help them develop their full potential in a spirit of mutual support, in order to build a more sensible, focused and prosperous society. I retired from the Groupement des chefs d'entreprise du Québec in 2014.
When I was in charge of the Groupement, farmers asked us to help them form groups. However, the farmers didn't have the same concerns as manufacturing and distribution SMEs. When I retired, farmers asked me to establish groups that would enable them to work together, help each other and grow as people. Groupe Leader Plus was created three years ago. Its mission is to bring together and support farm leaders, the next generation of farmers and farm owners, and to help them make progress with their four responsibilities as leaders.
The first of these four responsibilities is to develop the business on five levels. These levels are growth, human resources, operations, financial success and sustainability, and the business's entire network.
The second responsibility is to structure the business in five ways. They must think, plan, organize the business, coordinate meetings—an unusual but increasingly common activity for farmers—and control the business.
The third responsibility is to ensure the continuity of the business throughout the five stages of their career. These stages are entrepreneur, managing director, general manager, CEO and chair of the board. The creation of these stages is one thing that has greatly helped the next generation in Quebec SMEs. The stages enable the heads of businesses to properly establish their place, then leave their place to the next generation, as planned.
The fourth responsibility is to achieve a successful balance in the five areas of their life. These areas are their professional and social life; meaningful relationships; physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual health; personal finances; and well-being and recreational activities.
The Groupement's self-help groups focus on these four responsibilities.
Each self-help group has 10 to 12 business leaders—or aspiring leaders—who meet five to six times a year and who commit to helping each other and sharing their experiences and expertise, in order to improve their leadership and make progress with the four responsibilities of a leader. All members agree to accept each other and they commit to working with each other. All the groups receive the services of a professional coach. The coaching sheds light on the experiences and expertise of participants at each stage of the meetings, in order to promote mutual help and help participants make progress as leaders or people.
Coaches never act as consultants, and they involve experts as needed. Group Leader Plus develops a network of consultants, management and group tools, and a library of experiences for its members. At each thematic meeting, we summarize the experiences of the people around the table, which then helps the entire province. A meeting lasts four hours. It starts with a round table discussion, where each person has equal speaking time to describe how things are going for them, their family, their team and their business.
Moreover, during meetings, this period is always the longest, since it takes about 90 minutes of the four hours.
In the second part of the meeting, members can consult the group regarding a difficulty related to a project, a relationship issue or an administrative challenge. For each topic, members can consult the group to find out what their colleagues would do in their place. It's very useful, since they have direct access to people's opinions. They then commit to making progress and holding other meetings, and we follow up on this.
The third part of the meeting always focuses on a main theme, which we determine at the start of the year. In fact, we're planning strategic challenges for the next two to three years, and we can develop a program that covers the strategic challenges of each member. We deal with topics such as human resources management or family relationships. We then seek a consensus on best practices.
The fourth part of the meeting is an evaluation period, and a time for participants to commit to making progress by the next meeting—
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for the opportunity to present before you today.
Mental health is near and dear to my heart. I'm Lesley Kelly. I'm a farmer in Saskatchewan. I've been part of the Bell Let's Talk campaign, and both my husband and I have been very vocal, both online and within our networks, in sharing our mental health journeys. Not only am I an advocate for tackling the stigma around mental health in agriculture, I'm also a co-founder of the Do More Agriculture Foundation.
Who is Do More? At Do More, we are championing the mental health and mental well-being of all of our Canadian producers. We are trying to change the culture in agriculture so that all producers are encouraged, supported and empowered to take care of their mental well-being. Agriculture is an amazing industry. It's one that is built on deep rural roots, hard work, resilience, strength and community, but in order to uphold that image, those traits can also be our industry's weakness, as they become barriers for speaking up and seeking help.
Producers are among the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health issues. Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and burnout are all high among producers. At Do More, we see four barriers.
The first one is our culture. The ag industry is amazing but it is built on strength and perseverance, which also could be our weakness. The culture in ag is that a farmer should suck it up, tough it out and usually never show any emotion, and that if you ask for help, you are considered weak.
The second one is awareness. Many of us don't even know what mental health or mental illness really mean. This is a huge unknown, especially for an industry that has never been encouraged to talk about it.
The third one is isolation. As farmers, we spend a lot of time in rural and remote locations, usually on our own, often in a piece of equipment, which is not conducive to seeking professional help or having a conversation with someone.
The fourth one is the lack of resources. Our access to resources is limited because those resources are usually found in urban centres, and there may be a need to travel a fair distance to utilize them. At Do More, we are looking at how to make these resources accessible to our producers.
We also note two gaps. The first is finding farmer-specific resources. Resources for farmers are very limited. We've only identified a few. One we've identified is the farm stress line in Saskatchewan. The second one is navigating resources beyond your family doctor. If you are trying to find resources once you've visited your family doctor, it is very difficult to find them.
At Do More, we're focusing on three pillars in order to achieve our goal of championing the mental well-being of our producers.
The first one is awareness: awareness, education and breaking the stigma. These are the first steps in making a real and lasting impact for our industry. We strive for an industry where producers understand what it means for them to truly be healthy.
The second one is community. Community is more than just a physical place. Community is also a sense of belonging and being a part of something more. We aim to create community, where people can connect and also find resources that are relevant and accessible to them.
The third is research. Research is the backbone to creating further resources and ensuring they serve our industry. We want to ensure that more research can be completed in this field by supporting, sharing and funding both present and future research and working with our close partners, such as the University of Guelph and Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton.
How far have we come in the past 10 months? We launched in January of this year, and so far we are in the process of implementing a board that represents many sectors within the agriculture, mental health and geographical areas. We are in the midst of obtaining charitable status. Two weeks ago, we launched our community fund. It's a pilot project. We had enough funds for 10 to 12 communities to receive mental health first aid, and right now we are at over 80 applications. This demonstrates both the need and the want for our rural communities to get these skills.
We will be having an awareness campaign come November. It focuses on changing the language around mental health. We've been establishing partnerships with mental health service providers and community resources and creating industry partnerships, such as those with the CFA, Bayer and Farm Credit Canada. We've also been presenting at agriculture events and trade shows about mental health in agriculture and Do More.
Our ag industry is an amazing one and our producers are our greatest assets, but right now our greatest assets need help. They're hurting.
On behalf of Do More, my farm and my family, we need an industry-wide approach, and more help, awareness, support and resources to our Canadian producers.
Thank you very much.
As I said, we'd support the idea of a centre of excellence and mental health, with an agricultural focus, again, pulling that information together. There are going to be shared jurisdictions between federal, provincial and municipal governments that provide services.
The other thing we are doing is working with Canadian crisis centres to take a look at special training for people on crisis hotlines that would be operated nationally, on a 24-7 basis. Those people would have specific training on agriculture. I think one of the big concerns with some of the existing crisis lines is that you call in, and as we heard in the previous presentation, they advise you to just go back to work. Well, you have a crop in the field or you have cattle to feed. You have all of these things to do. You just can't go back and leave things alone. You have to deal with them. So having trained people on those crisis lines, I think, would be a good start. If we could do that nationally and have it available in both languages, and if we do the promotion on it, then I think people would know there's a place where they can actually get some help.
One of the things we have to look at is the broad interventions that have to take place. The idea is to get someplace before you reach the point of suicide, so make whatever interventions are needed, whether it's financial assistance, whether it's just the ability to communicate or things like that, so that you don't get to the point of suicide.
Ms. Kelly, perhaps I can start with you. First of all, I think what you're doing is amazing. The work you're doing is really important. I know it's been a tough journey, but I think it's very valued.
There are other professions where that kind of culture and stigma exists. Our veterans come to mind, as do the military and first responders. In my short tenure as a member of Parliament, I've met with a number of veterans, active service personnel, and first responders. They have successfully initiated a culture shift within those professions. PTSD is not something that's whispered about in the corridors anymore. It's actively talked about. I have a number of personal friends who serve as first responders. Being first on the scene, witnessing a motor vehicle accident, those kinds of things weigh down on you.
With the work you're currently engaged in, have you learned any best practices from other organizations in terms of how they have dealt with this issue of mental health and the stigma, the tough “go it alone” approach and so on, that you can apply to farmers?
Groupe Leader Plus was created three years ago, and it consists of about 150 people in groups of 10 or 12 farmers. Their meetings help them make progress. First, they can learn to speak clearly and express their emotions, and they can ask colleagues about best practices. We can invite specialists to help farmers resolve common issues, such as issues related to funding, human resource management or any other subject.
The meetings help build ties among the 10 to 12 leaders in each group. There's a sense of trust, and everyone can count on the group members' discretion. The leaders are no longer in their family or village. They're among people like them—leaders—and they look forward to getting together. It's always very difficult to reach them one by one, but the fact that they can meet in groups makes them love these meetings, where the attendance rate is almost 100%. We can therefore follow the development of the leaders and their issues. In my groups, it's not uncommon for one or two people to start crying. It's wonderful because they're finally able to express themselves and they feel understood. I think it's an excellent way to achieve efficiency.
If a group member needs to consult a psychologist, we put the member in contact with a psychologist. If a group member needs a financial advisor, or if the entire group needs to talk about a specific topic, we invite a specialist and give the specialist an hour to answer people's questions. After the specialist leaves, the leader or group has obtained the desired expertise and has established a link with the specialist or therapist, which allows for continuity. In addition, the group supports the member who is experiencing difficulties, and the others ask the member how things have been since the last meeting.
I think that everything you're saying is fantastic. There was a great deal of loneliness among SME entrepreneurs, but there's ten times more loneliness among farmers, who have difficulty communicating within their families. We're in the process of addressing the lack of meetings and seeing what other services we could provide. Participants pay a $900 contribution out of their own pocket—the government doesn't cover it—to attend five or six meetings, and they pay it willingly. I can tell you that I have no bad debts to report.
I just caught part of it, but I think one of the things you mentioned was regaining public trust and how we make sure that we have the proper tools in place for farmers from a mental health perspective as compared to urban centres.
I think one of the things that's been mentioned several times is the difference between a farm operation and a regular urban dweller or another business. With farming, the home, the family and the business are so tied together that you can't escape it. It's there all the time.
Some of the public trust issues about the way we're caring for our animals and the type of crop inputs we're using were mentioned earlier. We are doing quite a bit of work now with a number of partners, whether they be the retail sector, processors or some of our input suppliers, to try to get information out there.
There's a whole awareness campaign that needs to be put in place and we're working on that and moving it forward to ensure that there's good information about farm practices out there, which will help stop—and I heard it mentioned earlier—some of the almost bullying tactics that are used by anti-agricultural groups.
To continue the discussion around the connections across Canada, Mr. Bonnett, I know you did a symposium last year on this. My office also coordinated a round table on May 1, where we had all parties involved. We had the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. We had some psychologists, and we had university researchers.
Something that came out of the discussion that we had at our symposium was the connection between addiction, including binge drinking, and mental health. It was a surprise to me, since I thought that what binge drinking combined with the use of drugs does in terms of suicide and mental health outcomes was an urban issue around young adults. In your symposium, did you make any connections between mental health and addiction to illicit drugs and alcohol, or is that an area that didn't come up?
Ms. Kelly, let me express my appreciation and thanks for what you and your husband have done to step up and be a voice. There is a generational thing here. If you could look around the table, you could find those of us who were impacted in the 1980s, and likely the generation that is more impacted now.
I forget whether it was you or Ron who said that in that generation some of the older guys—farmers, I should be saying, because in our case it was both my wife and I—were stepping up and saying, “You need to be doing something now.” I'm going to be honest with you, back then it was more reactive than on the preventative side.
Quite honestly, what we're trying to do on this preventative side is to build hope for people. Sometimes just walking alongside someone becomes such a help before we get to that serious stage.
In terms of the federal, provincial and local coordination, how is that working? Is there an openness at all levels to come together and coordinate? We're talking about funding, resources and research.
Let's start with you, Ms. Kelly; and then Ron may have a comment.
I think there is. That's part of the reason I included a few comments about our personal experience. If I look back and think about what we went through, I see there were a number of us who went through it. We're on the borderline of getting into more severe mental illness. Some of us were lucky and had people who intervened at the time to help us through it.
I think there's a role for our generation to assist in this by stepping forward and acknowledging that there is a need to provide the services. Some of the services were there when my wife and I were going through this. They are no longer there. There used to be local, agricultural field people who could provide that type of advice, and they knew the individuals. With the changing world, those people are no longer there. One thing I talked about was taking a look at the curriculum and training, figuring out how we can have mentorship programs. Lloyd, you mentioned mentorship programs.
I think there are a number of those issues.
One thing that I think has been helpful is there has been a broader awareness now of mental health issues, not only in agriculture, but in the general public. I think that's helped farmers bring forward the discussion as well. It's not something that we feel we have to bury and just absorb ourselves. I think there's a role for both generations.
Thank you, Mr. Shipley.
If you would permit me one comment, I thought today was great. We looked at many aspects of mental health on the farm, but I didn't hear too much about the whole family concept of it all.
I'm sure, Ms. Kelly, that you could probably talk about it, but on my farm I had my partner, my wife, who was my therapist, but I'm sure she felt the stress also, as did the children, although they don't talk too much about it. I'm hoping that in the next few months we'll be able to talk about that.
Following up on Mr. Longfield's comment about addiction, we were at a corn maze farm last week and it was a second- or third-generation farm. We were walking along and my wife kicked something. It was a bottle of rum or something and it was still full. There was no label on it. It was an old bottle. That's just to say this has been generational. I'm sure they used some form of alcohol as therapy.
Thank you so much, Mr. Bonnett. Of course, we have certainly heard from you before. Thanks for your wise comments.
I want to thank everyone for their contribution.
That's the end of our meeting.
(The meeting is adjourned.)