Mental health is taboo among farmers, yet distress has been on the rise in recent years. In addition to the small number of workers, it is difficult to reach the people who need help.
Several factors contribute to stress: debt, labor shortages, increasingly changeable weather and now, the impacts of COVID-19.
“We often talk about family businesses, so there can be tensions,” underlines Pierrette Desrosiers, a psychologist specializing in farming. All that is without counting the problems that everyone can have, because they are humans, too. ”
There would not be enough specialized resources. “Mental health is the poor child when it comes time to invest,” explains Ms. Desrosiers.
The Union of agricultural producers (UPA) offers the service of row workers, which make social intervention in a preventive approach. However, she struggles to fill the positions.
“We would like to have a little more, but it’s difficult to recruit at the agricultural level,” says André Marleau, administrator at the UPA union in Vaudreuil-Soulanges.
The problem is all the greater considering the isolation of certain producers. “There are some who live alone to take care of their farm and who go out just once a week to do their grocery shopping,” says Marc-André Isabelle, co-owner of the La Belle de Coteau-du-Lac farm.
To face it, the UPA also relies on sentries. These are members of the community who can report psychological distress.
But the subject remains taboo “We especially hear about it when there are unfortunate events that occur,” says Isabelle. Very few talk about it openly. ”
The age of farmers can also be an issue for prevention. “There are still some who go very little on the Internet,” he continues. So it’s difficult to reach them. ”
Containment also added an additional challenge. Although the work on the farm or in the fields has not stopped, farmers have also been affected.
“Whether it’s having to take care of a child who can no longer go to school or fewer sales due to the closure of restaurants, there has been an impact,” says Pierrette Desrosiers. The pandemic seemed to exacerbate the fragility that already existed. ”
It is for this reason that the UPA is seeking to hire more rank-and-file workers. “For a normal year, we were fine with our workforce, but this year, the demand is greater,” explains André Marleau.
But for Pierrette Desrosiers, the solution lies in training and awareness. “We have to invest to specialize agricultural psychologists,” she says. With more resources, it will be easier to be proactive. ”
Until that happens, Desrosiers is doing what she can by presenting virtual conferences on stress management in agriculture.