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A Strathclair-based counsellor and consultant is diligently working to remove the stigma and barriers surrounding mental health and wellness on the Prairies.
Kim Moffat said there is an imperative need to talk about the agricultural industry and mental health, as the number of stressors farmers and their families face increases.
“Changing weather patterns and climate change, it’s just putting another level of stress on producers to know how to manage their land and to respond to droughts and excess moisture cycles,” Moffat said. “It’s been a challenging year.”
Prior to launching her practice in Strathclair, Moffat worked for Manitoba Farm Rural and Northern Support Services for 20 years as a counsellor. Her tasks included talking to farmers every day when they or family members would call in, offering counselling and support, or referring them to other resources that could be helpful.
When the farm stress line closed and moved to Winnipeg in 2020, Moffat was working for the University of Guelph and with Canada Suicide Prevention Services.
She decided that because there was a gap in mental health services available to farmers, she would open up her own private practice focusing on agricultural mental health and wellness for farmers in Manitoba and across the country.
She counsels farmers via Zoom, in person or on the phone, and continues to host workshops and presentations on stress management to different farm organizations.
For the past year, she has been a lead facilitator for the workshop In the Know — a mental health literacy training program developed by the University of Guelph. The five-hour training sessions were created to provide information around mental health and agriculture for those in the ag industry.
“In all of our sessions, we’ve had a nice blend between farmers and people working in the ag industries. The people in the ag industry could learn a lot from the farmers that were participating in these workshops and hear and understand … what the stressors are on the farm, and vice versa.”
She estimates she has hosted about 40 workshops across Canada and will continue to facilitate the gatherings to help open up the conversation around mental health and wellness in the agricultural sector.
She appreciates the different doors COVID-19 has opened for farmers with virtual counselling.
“It’s opened it up to people so that they can access support online, which has been really nice. Especially with farmers, because they might not have the time, the money to be able to drive to wherever to get the support,” Moffat said. “If they can pick up the phone and talk to somebody or come in and have a Zoom session, it makes it a little more accessible to people, which is the goal.”
It has been difficult having these conversations about wellness because there can be a lot of stigmas attached to mental health that may prevent farmers from asking for help.
This mentality has been shifting over the past decade, Moffat said, and it has been wonderful to see farmers increasingly reaching out in times of mental health duress.
“There are certain barriers that farmers have in terms of reaching out for help. One of them is simply it’s difficult to take time away from the farm to travel to Brandon [or other urban centres] to seek out support or help,” Moffat said. “If they’ve never done that before, they might not see it as a good use of their time and money and maybe unsure if that will actually help.”
Several studies show that when farmers reach out, one of the key components is ensuring they are able to speak with someone who understands agriculture and the culture of farming, Moffat said. There can be some skepticism when reaching out to somebody they do not believe will understand the daily stress they face.
Some rural residents may not even have the language they need to talk about mental health and wellness, she added. The important takeaway is learning how to identify when someone is at risk for stress, is in a crisis or may be a risk for suicide. From there, they can learn how to respond in a sensitive and empathic way.
After 20 years of working in agricultural mental health, Moffat said, she is optimistic the conversation is changing.
“There’s been a real shift in people talking about their mental health.
“It’s unusual now that there will be a conference … that doesn’t have some kind of mental health component to it — the industry is really recognizing the pressures and the stress that’s in farming and really kind of stepping up to make sure that they’re getting the information and support they need.”
There remains significant work to do still, she said, including continuing to break down the stigma around mental health. People still hesitate to speak out about what they are experiencing, and it remains critical to continue having these conversations about mental health — be it at an official conference or in a local coffee shop.
“It’s an ongoing conversation that we need to keep having in order to make it safe for people to talk about it and get the help they need.”
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