Far too often, particularly in today’s modern society of 140 characters, sound bites, scrolling news, smartphones and rushing throughout our daily grind, we forget to stop and experience one of the things that makes us truly human: empathy. Not to be confused with sympathy, which is the state of sharing the feelings of another, empathy is a far more subtle and elusive response. So as you read this, I want to ask you one question: when was the last time you actually showed empathy to another human being?
Now I implore you to ask yourself this: Do you know someone who suffers from a mental health illness? Since 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health illness at some point in their life, and 2 out of every 3 people who experience a mental illness suffer in silence for fear of rejection, I’m guessing that you do, even if you don’t realize it. Add a stressful job or profession into the mix, and the incidence of mental illness increases. Professionals such as paramedics, police, firefighters, military and farmers all have increased incidences of stress, trauma and mental related illnesses. Wait a second… Did I just say farmers? In fact, I did… As reported by Newsweek in a 2014 article (http://www.newsweek.com/death-farm-248127), farmers experience a suicide rate nearly twice that of the general population. Yes, farming is a stressful profession. Often your entire equity is tied to your land, your equipment or your livestock. Market fluctuations, weather and other unexpected occurrences can be extremely stressful events because it puts your income and your equity at risk. Imagine not knowing each day if you were going to have a wage payment or not, while having the constant reminder that bill payments were due regardless of what income you derived. Not exactly something that paints a picture of confidence, is it?!
So what can we do to support farmers? What have we done? While it’s excellent that organizations like Newsweek are shedding light on the issue and there are broader mental health initiatives like Bell’s “Let’s Talk”, action is needed to draw further attention and garner support. Queue a Saskatchewan-based farm technology organization called Farm at Hand (@FarmatHand on Twitter) and their recent #HereForFarmers campaign. Running through March and April 2015, the Here For Farmers campaign originally aimed to generate $6,600 through sales of tongue-in-cheek farm related t-shirts representing 3 common end-use products derived from agriculture (beer, bread & steak). The goal of this donation campaign was to donate $1,500 to the Farm Stress Line (http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/FarmStressLine or 1-800-667-4442), an organization whose mission is to provide confidential telephone counselling, support, information and referral services that respond to the needs of rural people, families and communities. So, a campaign was started, and you, the agriculture industry and those who support the industry, responded in a way that could not possibly have been foreseen.
In 1 month alone, the support generated for the Here For Farmers campaign more than doubled the initial goal. The silver lining? Here For Farmers was able to donate nearly $7,000 to the Farm Stress Line, including a $1,000 matching donation from Farm Business Consultants (fbc.ca), a rural income tax consulting firm. That’s an increase of over 350% from the original campaign goal!
Campaigns and support such as this are just the tip of the iceberg; it behooves us to maintain the momentum to create awareness of agriculture related mental health issues, and to fund programs that provide support to farmers. Our work has just begun and it doesn’t stop here. Sure, we have some cool t-shirts and we can feel good about the support we have provided thus far… But it’s incumbent upon us to do more.
Volunteer. Advocate. Provide financial support. Talk about the issues – with farmers and non-farmers alike. Don’t let someone you know suffer in silence. Help end the stigma. But ultimately, show who you are really here for: yourself, your family, your friends and neighbours, those you know and those you don’t. Show that you are human. Show empathy. Be here, for your fellow human beings. After all, isn’t that who we all should be here for?