In light of the recent Bell Let’s Talk Day, I felt this was the perfect time to write about this topic. In my last blog about the relationship between farmers and social media I alluded to the effects it has on farmers’ mental health. In this blog I intend to dive deeper. There is a lot more to this topic than you would first expect.
Several years ago there was never really any talk of mental health amongst farmers. Farmers were (and still are) massive believers in phrases like ‘toughen up’, ‘don’t complain’ and ‘don’t make excuses.’ These are phrases heavily drawn upon in our community to power through difficult times. Our lives are tough. The work we do is hard. Why make it harder for yourself? In an article posted in the Globe and Mail just last year, it was revealed that “40% of Canadian Agriculture Producers say they would be uneasy seeking help for mental illness because of what others may think.” There is a mentality within farm culture that is perpetuating the problem.
Farming is a high stress job. Many factors are completely out of your control. It is long hours and very hard work, even on the coldest, darkest days of the year. Even in storms, blizzards and heat waves. There is a lot of gambling, a lot of financial stress, a lot of physical stress and a heck of a lot of loneliness. Unending amounts of loneliness. Some farmers go weeks without seeing another human. We talk to ourselves, to our livestock, to inanimate objects. Isolation does something to a person – literally. It has physical effects on your body leading to cardiovascular disease, increased nervous system activity, increased inflammation, loss of sleep, increases the risk for dementia, increases your susceptibility to infection and the list goes on. I personally work alone all day most days. I like being alone, but it does start to take an effect on me. I like it better when I work with my mother and we can talk and joke while we work. We’re more productive as a team and I can see it has a positive impact on my mother’s overall well being too.
Enter Social Media
Social media has changed the game in my opinion. With more and more farmers joining social networking platforms we have more people opening up and discussing things. Media campaigns and events like Bell’s Let’s Talk Day actively invites them to talk about what ails them. It shows them that they aren’t in it alone and the importance of reaching out. The conversation wasn’t being had until a few brave souls came forward. Now organizations like Do More Ag exist to try to push us even further into helping ourselves. I’ve witnessed firsthand farmers who had previously been locked vaults and preachers of the ‘toughen up’ mantra, acknowledge and accept mental health as a concept. I’m sure that seems like a small step, but from my perspective, it’s huge.
We are now able to stifle loneliness, reaching out to farmers across the globe and comforting them. Letting them know that we are also going through the same things. Perhaps just offering encouragement or sympathies during a rough harvest, a flood, a drought… A recent crisis in the Ontario beef industry serves as a good example. When a processing plant shutdown cripples an entire industry and farmers face frightening financial hardship – every kind word helps. It’s a step away from the edge. It’s a gentle hand reminding us that it is alright, we’re human and we can’t control the forces that be.
The Flip Side
If I learned anything from Star Wars (and church), it is that in order for there to be a light side, there also has to be a dark side. Social media has done wonders in terms of connecting us with others and making the world a smaller, more accessible place. At the same time, studies are starting to suggest that social media may have negative effects on our mental health. On social media we constantly compare ourselves to others. Social media also opens us up to a world of people we could have easily avoided in our isolation. Online we encounter critics and bullies that use the protection of anonymity to say ruthless and painful things they might not say to your face. Especially if the career you’ve dedicated your life to is one that doesn’t align with the views of others.
Trolls are everywhere. No matter what you do, no matter who you are, you are going to get trolled on social media. It’s the nature of the beast. That said, farmers are deceptively fragile creatures and we are already seeing the evidence that online bullying is having a big impact on their mental health. It’s been a hard road to get farmers to acknowledge mental health problems are legitimate, let alone open up about it. To have a stranger attack you when you’re just stepping out of your box is enough to push you so far back into the box you’ll never come out again.
Long Story Short
Social media is having a huge impact on farmers’ mental health, some good and some bad. The issue of mental health in agricultural is a massive topic that needs more attention and more aid and I for one am optimistic about social media’s help in that. We are able to create more awareness and provide more resources that farmers might not have known about before. Just being able to socialize with other farmers innocently over a social network is so good for people living in rural areas. I see the effects firsthand in my friends, neighbours and family.
What are your thoughts? Does social media help or hurt mental health? Are attacked groups like farmers particularly vulnerable? Were we safer in isolation or does being able to connect with the good apples outweigh the potential attacks from the bad ones?
If You Need Help
If you need to talk to someone you can use the Ontario Mental Health Line.
Call ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600
More resource are available here. There are local crisis hotlines in some counties across ontario.
Bell Canada. Bell Let’s Talk Day. https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/ January 29, 2020.
The Globe and Mail. With high stress, anxiety and depression, 40% of Canadian Farmers uneasy about seeking help. May 20th, 2019.
Aging Life Care Association – Clifford Singer. Health effects of social isolation and loneliness. 2018.
CBC News – Lindsay Bird. This farmer struggled with severe depression. And he says he’s one of the lucky ones. October 29th, 2019
Ontario Farmer – Suzanne Atkinson. Social media campaign invites farmers to share their mental health journey. October 10th, 2019.
Do More Agriculture.
Ontario Farmer – Jim Romahn. Ryding-Regency shut for good. December 3rd, 2019.
Forbes – Alice Walton. New Studies Show Just How Bad Social Media is for Mental Health. November 16th, 2018
City News – Stephane Blais. Cyberbullying by vegan activists a source of stress for farmers: psychologists. August 4th 2019.
Canadian Mental Health Association. Mental health in the agriculture industry. 2020.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Mental health resources.