Program Helps To Alleviate Risks Of Mental Illness

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It’s well known that farming is one of Canada’s most dangerous occupations. It’s less-well known that the dangers are not just physical. Stress can also take its toll on mental health, especially for men too proud to seek help.

The “Men at Risk” a program acknowledges the problems that farmers face, and brings help those who might be suffering from depression or mental health problems.

Men in trades and industry are at the highest risk for death by suicide, followed by men in agriculture, Rob Little, a volunteer with Men at Risk, told the Grande Prairie Farm Women’s Conference here last month.

Men in agriculture often work alone, deal with a lot of pressure and have to find their own solutions to problems. “Nobody is macho like a rancher or a farmer,” said Little. They are often very independent in their finances, choices and personal lives, he said.

Little says the Men at Risk program gives participants the tools to identify, talk about and get help for mental illnesses such as depression. It also helps break down the stigmas and misconceptions about depression. Little said suicide rates in the Peace country have historically been 10 times higher for men than for women.

Little was raised on a farm and ran his own operation near Fairview for 30 years. He became involved with the Men at Risk program after his own son died by suicide in 2003. He believes many people are frightened by mental health issues and reluctant to acknowledge that they have problems. This may be prevalent in agriculture, which requires men to keep a stiff upper lip and “cowboy up.” Men are also afraid to talk about things and may not bring up these subjects with their friends, said Little.

VOLUNTEER-DRIVEN

The Men at Risk program works by bringing volunteer presenters in to talk with companies or organizations. Little often shares his story with groups of men in agriculture, or the oil and gas industry. The sessions are often held during company safety meetings, since mental health problems can have a definite impact on one’s safety while at work. Presentations have also been made to town council meetings and for agricultural service boards.

The program introduces men to resources and emphasizes communication skills and vocabulary so men who have problems can seek help. Awareness and knowing the vocabulary is the first step to getting help, said Little.

“It’s a not a sign of weakness if you have to go. It’s a sign of strength if you get help,” he said. “I always tell the guys that you don’t have to be a psychologist to help somebody. You just need to know where one is.”

The volunteer presenters often ask their audiences to think about how they are taking care of themselves and if they are sleeping or eating properly. Restlessness, anxiety or drastic changes in energy levels can also be signs of mental health problems.

“When the mind is all over the place, and you can’t focus on your task and you’re running equipment it becomes a safety issue,” said Little. “You’re a danger to yourself and the people around you.”

Barb Campbell, co-ordinator with the Men at Risk program in Grande Prairie, said the program began after research done in the Peace Country in 1999 identified men in trades, oil and gas and agriculture as being at risk. In 2006, the Peace Country program was replicated and has been put in place in Lloydminster and Camrose, thanks to the involvement of Alberta Health services and three agency partners.

The program is portable and can be done in any location.

For more information or to book a presentation, call Barbara Campbell at 780-539-0210.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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