Farmers’ mental health is worse than that of the general public, according to a University of Guelph survey

A recent study conducted by a university in Ontario suggests that a Canadian farmer’s mental health is worse than that of the general population and has been declining over the past five years.

Responses from nearly 1,200 Canadian farmers to a University of Guelph 2021 online survey conducted online between February and May found that 76 percent of farmers said they suffered from moderate or high perceived stress.

dr Andria Jones-Bitton, a professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Ontario Veterinary College, said issues related to rising fertilizer and fuel prices, as well as supply chain shortages of equipment and parts, were some of the specific stressors that were exacerbating farmers’ health-being .

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“The pandemic … has added new pressures such as increased costs, fewer seasonal farm workers due to 2020 travel bans, and agricultural processing backlogs due to COVID-19 illness among workers and truck drivers,” Jones-Bitton said.

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Survey responses highlighting stress included: “There is no such thing as sick leave for farmers. You don’t get paid if you can’t work,” while another said, “The lack of control is very frustrating – lack of control over weather, input costs and commodity prices are all very stressful.”

Larry Davis, a director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says he’s not surprised by the results and admits careers are stressful at the best of times.

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He says farmers “are out there alone most days and the workload starts when the sun comes up and often doesn’t end until the sun goes down.

“[The]workload is spread out over many hours, especially during harvest time, calving season or lambing season, whichever it’s going to be,” Davis said.

“But all in all, are the finances okay? Will this crop be something I can sell?”

While this is generally a “very rewarding” life, Davis says today’s farmers also face scrutiny from activists who question livestock practices, to the general public who expect the food produced to be perfect.

The arrival of COVID-19 also hurt socially, with neighboring farmers unable to get together and have conversations during the winter.

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“There are gatherings for farmers to attend educational events … those things weren’t happening and it was very stressful for the farmers,” Davis said.

Jones-Bitton and her colleagues conducted a similar survey in 2015-16, which also found higher than national average stress levels and mental health problems among farmers.

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The latest study found that women are more stressed in every aspect except alcohol consumption.

Jones-Bitton said off-farm responsibilities tended to increase stress for female farmers with additional roles, such as housekeeping and being the “default parent.”

“In addition to the stresses of agriculture and the pandemic, this is putting a huge strain on women farmers,” Jones-Britton said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc. Farmers’ mental health is worse than that of the general public, according to a University of Guelph survey


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