Sask. Polytechnic team working on mental health supports for farmers and ranchers

"We don’t really know how bad it is because farmers are stoic and proud and don’t like to open up. They’re not going to say ‘I’m struggling, I need help.'"

Bryn Levy 4 minute read January 25, 2022

Researchers at Saskatchewan Polytechnic are hoping a year of gathering input from farmers and ranchers leads to better mental health support for producers.

Michelle Pavloff, a research chair in rural health at the college, said she and her team surveyed or interviewed about 100 farmers and ranchers.

“We’re also talking to them about farm culture so that we can develop a program that’s culturally appropriate and meets their needs,” she said.

While her data is still preliminary for now, Pavloff said a few things have jumped out so far. First, it’s clear producers would rather talk to someone from their own walk of life.

“Over 82 per cent said they would want a peer-to-peer support network, where it would be agricultural producers trained in mental health providing support to one another,” she said.

Pavloff said producers also expressed a desire to speak to mental health specialists with a working knowledge of farm culture and to have a support hotline where the people answering the phone are also well-versed in farm life.

Shari Laventure serves as one of the project’s patient-family advisors. A Cargill employee who grew up in a farming family, she said she believes mental health struggles are far more common than producers let on.

“We don’t really know how bad it is because farmers are stoic and proud and don’t like to open up. They’re not going to say ‘I’m struggling, I need help,’ ” she said.

Laventure said she signed on to help with the research as a way to help cope with the loss of her brother to suicide in 2015. He was a farmer who was “very, very adept at hiding,” she said, adding she “was very close with him. Nobody knew until it was too late that he was struggling.”

Taking part in the project has been rewarding, she said.

“It’s been a great adventure. I’ve met some really great friends. Our team is really fantastic.”

Pavloff said her team hopes to roll out some programs in the next few months. They’ve got a variety of initiatives in mind, including training rural massage therapists to assess for anxiety and depression, enabling them to give a client a letter to help them kickstart a mental health conversation with their physicians. They also want to offer phone-based supports for seniors through a partnership with Seniors Centres Without Walls and to have presentations offering wellness strategies to youth in rural schools.

Work is also underway to develop a smartphone and computer-based platform for people to access help.

Anyone wishing to participate is encouraged to visit the project’s website at Pavloff said the site has links for anyone wishing to do an interview or take part in the survey. Her contact information is also available for producers who want to access help but face financial barriers.

She encourages anyone currently needing mental health support to call the province’s 211 help line.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566), Saskatoon Mobile Crisis (306-933-6200), Prince Albert Mobile Crisis Unit (306-764-1011), Regina Mobile Crisis Services (306-525-5333) or the Hope for Wellness Help Line, which provides culturally competent crisis intervention counselling support for Indigenous peoples (1-855-242-3310).

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our community guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.