Farm Safety Roundup, Ep. 4: Mental health in agriculture — are you ready?

Agriculture, with its demanding nature, often requires individuals to be physically and mentally prepared for challenging situations. Farmers spend most of their days tending to crops or livestock, but don’t always commit time to caring for their own well-being.

In this episode of the Farm Safety Roundup, Shaun Haney covers this critical topic in conversation with Kristin Hoffman, a health and safety consultant with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.

A major component of mental health is to look at it through the lens of overall health, with the analogy of a three-legged stool: “By design, a three legged stool is sturdy, balanced, and supportive for the individual that is going to sit upon it,” Hoffman says. “However, if any one of those legs were broken or unstable, then the design would be compromised, imbalanced, and in fact, those other two legs will have to work harder to maintain that individual that is sat upon it.” Mental health is one leg of our overall health.

Just like you get equipment ready for the planting season, farmers need to evaluate their physical and mental readiness for both the ongoing work and the upcoming season, Hoffman says. “Mental health really is that state of well-being where each individual realizes their own potential, and copes well; is able to do all of the things that they would do in a regular day,” Hoffman says.

The challenge is to recognize mental health despite its less obvious nature compared to physical health, and to understand that it’s not about removing all stress from your life: Hoffman says that we need a little bit of stress to be productive and bring excitement, but too high of a level or too long of exposure is going to have some negative impact.

There has been a shift in acknowledging the importance of mental health within the sector, with increased resources and initiatives dedicated to supporting farm operators and their workers. Hoffman notes that each step we take in breaking the silence and the stigma around discussing mental health will eventually erode it right down to zero.

Hoffman also highlights that ‘normal’ varies for each individual, shaped by their unique life experiences and exposures. She concludes with practical tips and tricks for managing stress in the agricultural sector, encouraging individuals to focus on positive and productive activities such as physical activity, adequate rest, proper nutrition, maintaining social connections, and acknowledging factors beyond your control and incorporating activities off the farm.

For practical, actionable tools and resources including lists such as The Daily Chore: Handling Stress on the Farm, understanding stress, its impact and exploring coping methods, go to WSPS.ca/Resource-Hub

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