Farming communities need support amidst unique challenges
“With AgTalk, we are looking to connect those in agriculture who are either in a place to support or looking for support with people that have some similar life experience,” said Megz Reynolds, Executive Director for the Do More Agriculture Foundation.
In a recent interview with Reynolds, the stigma around mental health was heavily discussed, emphasizing the need for mental health support in industries like agriculture. Discussions around similar trends observed in different countries like India, where such a support system hasn’t been built for daily use, were discussed. Her grain farming experience lends to her discovering this problem in Canada which led to launching AgTalk; “I wanted to have a conversation with the person that I was before I became a farmer, as I came to the industry with some mistrusts and misconceptions about what and why we’re doing things on the farm and that was the catalyst of having a platform.”
“We didn’t have Statistics in Canada prior to the initial study done by the University of Guelph which was done in 2016-2017 and released in 2018. That was the first time we had a real quantitative understanding of where farmer mental health was in Canada and that triggered a series of events. One being that the Agriculture Agri-Foods Standing Committee looked into mental health and so in 2018, I testified to them as a farmer. Thanks to challenging weather for the past three years and really low quantity prices, [it] felt like I have failed as a farmer,” said Reynolds. The feeling of failure projected onto different roles in her life as a farmer, spouse, parent, and person.
Since the inception of the foundation, the goal has been to “do more for mental health and agriculture. To bring awareness to it, break the stigma, connect people with resources and create resources [for them].” As people continued to reach out to them mentioning how the rate of suicide in farmers were going up and nothing was being done to support, the need for AgTalk was all the more apparent.
“Agriculture is a very stoic industry. You push things down,” said Reynolds. As there was no other resource prior to AgTalk for folks in the agricultural industry, Reynolds found that the professionals associated showing emotions as a weak aspect which leads to chronic stress; “You can see someone that looks like they are fine… and then it’s one little thing… [is] the last straw”
Owing to the nature of the industry, the need to take a break was a common suggestion when dealing with stress and mental health problems. But such a thing is not possible for year-round farmers and professionals in the industry who needed to be always on ground. Thus, the compassion from people who do not understand where these professionals came from was not helping at all. They were better off sharing those experiences and problems with someone in the same shoes as them. “But I do not want to connect with another farmer in Nova Scotia because they might know who I am and they might think I can’t handle it because I am seeking support,” said Reynolds on behalf of the farmers and professionals in the industry during the course of her research for this project.
“I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and that’s when I found and connected with Togetherall. So, AgTalk is hosted on Togetherall’s platform. They have been doing peer-to-peer support for over 16 years now… to try and support the demographic that can benefit from mental health support,” continued Reynolds. “I found them and what I loved was one, that it’s anonymous and two, that it was monitored 24/7 by mental health clinicians.”
Reynolds shared the working of the platform where the clinicians monitored the platform, backend developers flagging some words that were observed on a regular basis and the overall functionality that gave a sense of ease in its usage. With such a platform, Reynolds aims to make it safe and easy to access for all. “When it comes to mental health, because of the risk involved in just the safety that needs to be there to support anyone engaging with it, I wanted to make sure we’re finding someone who has created something that was really robust versus trying to do it ourselves,” said Reynolds about choosing to collaborate with Togetherall.
As the stigma of mental health is a global phenomenon, Reynolds aims to picture AgTalk globally and wishes to expand its functioning and working outside Canada. The agricultural industry all over the world could benefit from such a platform. Reynolds is connected to farmers all over the world through the Global Farmer Network and with this growing network, she wishes to see AgTalk pop up in different countries too.
Their new campaign – Walk With Me in October during the World Mental Health Day – is set to be a way to bring all farmers and people in the agricultural industry together, giving them access and a platform to seek support. It would be a reminder that strength doesn’t always come from being out there in the barns but also comes through the courage to ask for help and support in times of need.
Initiatives like AgTalk would be a source to break down the barriers of stigma that have kept farmers in the shadows for a long time now. As we continue to navigate this world of chaos and noise, we must also tend to the well-being of those who feed the world. AgTalk, a beacon of hope for farmers and such professionals in the agricultural industry, is just another step to a more equitable and sustainable future.