NDP calls on Alberta government to create mental health supports for farmers

As a farmer himself, Lethbridge County councillor Tory Campbell knows stress comes with the job.

“I’ve sat next to a grain bin that had bugs in it and I cried,” Campbell said. “I’ve yelled, I’ve cursed and I’ve screamed, lost blood — even lost a couple of fingertips.

“I’ve lied awake at night, thinking about how I’m going to make this work.”

In 2019, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta passed a resolution, calling on the provincial government to create a mental health crisis hotline for the agriculture industry.

Read more: ‘It’s looking terrible’: Alberta ranchers struggling in provincial drought

As drought continues to impact producers across the Prairies, NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet is renewing the call, saying the industry needs its own 24/7 mental health phone line and the provincial government needs to help with that.

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“Dealing with drought is a different conversation than if you’re talking about something different,” she said.

“We want to make sure farmers and ranchers have access to a mental health specialist that understands farming and ranching.”

Global News has reached out to Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen for comment on Sweet’s request.

Read more: Federal agriculture minister announces help for farmers, ranchers suffering from drought

Campbell said more people in the industry are speaking up about mental health, especially with the struggles this growing season, but they need more support.

“As a farmer, I can say we need to do more, we need to do better.”

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Ag mental health groups seeing influx of calls

The Do More Agriculture Foundation is a mental health group for producers.

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Executive director Adelle Stewart said harvest is normally the organization’s busiest time, but that changed this year.

“We’ve been fielding calls and emails since the beginning of July and there’s been no reprieve or let-up,” Stewart said.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s been no rain, so the stress just seems to be mounting.”

Stewart said trust is a big factor in producers deciding to reach out for help.

“Farmers and producers are more likely to access help when it’s offered by someone who understands agriculture,” she said.

Read more: Southern Alberta crops decimated by heat: ‘There’s virtually nothing there’

“To either make that first call, build that therapeutic relationship between a mental health professional and a farmer, having a program that is specific to agriculture is paramount.”

The organization is attempting to start its own mental health phone line and Stewart said it’s an area where producers need more support.

“Supports were needed well before a pandemic, well before a drought, so now they’re needed more than ever.”

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Alberta ranchers struggling to feed cattle amidst extreme drought – Aug 3, 2021

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