Next month will mark the first anniversary of the foundation of the Manitoba Farm Wellness Program (MFW).
"It's really a grassroots organization," says MFW spokesperson Roberta Galbraith.
"A few people came around the table and said, there's a need. Gerry Friesen and Kim Moffat were the two people that started it. Being counselors and working in the counseling field for so long themselves felt that there was a real gap here in Manitoba with perspective around the whole farmer wellness and topic. So they just reached out to other community members within the industry. Marcel Hacault and I came on board, that was in November of 2021 and we launched on March 1st of 2020."
According to the program's website, a 2015 study by the University of Guelph led by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton found that 58 per cent of farmers meet the criteria for anxiety disorder, 35 percent
meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis and 40 percent of farmers are reluctant to get help due to stigma.
The stories behind those numbers were the impetus to create the program in March 2022, designed around health and wellness FOR farmers, BY farmers
"Anybody who's connected to the farm: owners, wives, children, employees that you might have, that's where the program is directed."
"You have access to six free counseling sessions with a counselor that has an ag background," she explains. "Once those six three sessions are done, you can continue on with the service every year it will renew. Or you can continue on with that counselor for longer than the six sessions in a 12-month period."
The stigma attached to getting help for mental health concerns is one issue that keeps people from taking advantage of the service.
"Certainly we're a very resilient community. You know, stiff upper lip and let's just go fix it. We're recognizing through surveys that have been done and whatnot that anxiety and depression is higher in the farm population than it is in the general population. It's so important for our health and illness to talk about it and to break down those barriers around the stigma that you need to try and fix it yourself."
Galbraith adds that the issues driving stress points for farming families have grown beyond money and social economics.
"Whether or not you have food on the table or somebody's got an off-farm job or the kids want to do this, that, or the other thing and there's just not enough money.
I mean, BSE was certainly an issue for many the in the beef sector. You know when you start talking about ag policy and consumers' involvement or opinion on how we farm, all of that just adds stress. And then of course there's carbon and there's the climate, and we just seem to be inundated with information. If you thought about the number of emails we get every day just on marketing alone, that's stressful."
The MFW website states that the goal of the program is improving mental health, accessibility, and decreasing stigma in order to build safe, strong, and healthy farm families.
Galbraith says they've heard back from individuals who have found the program helpful.
The program can be accessed via its webste: https://manitobafarmerwellness.ca/