Lesley and Mathieu Kelly knew they were opening themselves up to a backlash when they shared a candid video about mental health problems they’ve faced as a young farm family.
They spoke about the stress of farming, of Mathieu’s anxiety, of Lesley’s postpartum depression.
And they were right. They were bullied. People online mocked them, trolled them, called them “pretend farmers,” “crazy,” “weak.”
But then — well, then things started to change.
“From that time almost a year ago, I’ve seen a shift,” said Lesley Kelly, who farms near Watrous, Sask.
“There’s always going to be a small group that does it. But what I see now is people step up and say, ‘Hey, that’s not cool, and we’re not going to stand for it.’
“The support that I’ve seen happening is really inspiring.”
And that shift has been part of a greater movement in Canada’s agriculture industry to destigmatize mental illness — sparked in part by the Kellys’ video and the creation of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, a new non-profit organization that provides support and mental health resources to farmers.
“Before, it was all a little hush-hush — people didn’t talk about it,” said Kelly, who started the foundation with Kim Keller and Himanshu Singh, founders of software company Farm at Hand.
“Now, I see those conversations happening everywhere, whether it’s on social media, in the community, or at the kitchen table.
“It’s part of an everyday conversation now.”
Since its launch in January, the Do More Agriculture Foundation has gained momentum across the country by sharing farmer stories across social media and in the mainstream media to draw attention to the mental health challenges facing farm communities. So far, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
“When we launched, we didn’t think we would get the response that we did,” said Kelly. “But the reception that we got and the conversations that we’ve been seeing have been incredible. People are participating in the conversation, and that has been really, really positive.”
As they grow and their work continues, the Do More Agriculture team will be focusing their efforts on three key pillars: Creating awareness and capacity through education and training; building community by helping farmers connect and find resources; and supporting current and future research focusing on mental health in agriculture.
That work will be helped along by partner sponsorships — most notably Bayer, which recently donated $20,000 to the foundation. That and other funding will be used to support a “boots-on-the-ground approach” to helping farmers find the mental health resources they need, said Kelly.
“Our goal isn’t to create resources — it’s to bring the resources to agriculture,” she said, adding they couldn’t do that without this funding.
“Bayer is one of our many partners, and we’re super pumped they’ve come on board.”
The goal is to keep the conversation around mental health going, she said. One way for farmers to do that is by sharing their own stories publicly, lending a supportive voice to the discussion, or even just retweeting or liking posts on Twitter.
“My husband and I like to speak openly about it because we know, through our experience, that no one is alone and no one should feel alone,” said Kelly.
“But even if you have conversations at the kitchen table with your family, that’s OK, too. It doesn’t matter where you’re having those conversations, as long as you’re having them.”