“Resilient” is a word that has been used to describe the farming community time and time again. To be resilient is to “be able to recover quickly from difficult conditions,” and farmers – on the surface – seem to do just that with each passing season. From unpredictable weather patterns and increasing input costs, to market disruptions, to labour shortages, farmers are faced with it all. Yet, they always seem to persist, putting food on our grocery store shelves regardless of the obstacles they endured to get it there. However, behind this strength lies a hidden truth – the toll farming takes on their mental well-being.
Farming is not just physically demanding but mentally challenging as well. The unending hours, complex tasks, and the constant juggling of family responsibilities rarely allow farmers the luxury of turning off the demands of their job. As a result, they often prioritize their livelihoods and providing for others over their own well-being.
So, while it is easy to see that our local lettuce or apples are still on display at the grocery store and assume that everything must be “okay” following the latest disaster, that is not always the case. The reality is, being a farmer can take an immense toll on mental health. Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, and cynicism (a belief that people are motivated by self-interest and distrust the sincerity of others) can become frequent companions. Not only that, but farmers are often faced with these stressors while working in rural areas, leading to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
In fact, one study from University of Guelph shows that rates of burnout, suicidal ideation, and reduced resilience are all significantly higher among farmers when compared to the national average (Thompson et al., 2022). It is also alarming to learn that 1 in 4 Canadian farmers reported that their life was no longer worth living or had considered taking their own life. These statistics show the vulnerabilities farmers face silently, away from public view.
The next time you cross paths with a farmer, whether it’s your neighbour, a friend, or a vendor at the local farmer’s market, take a moment to appreciate their hard work and sacrifices. Maybe that’s extending a simple “thank you,” recognizing their struggles and offering support, or just thinking twice before complimenting their “resilience.” While that may seem an apt description, it is time that we go beyond seeing farmers as strong and resilient and understand the emotional challenges they experience. Raising awareness about their mental health and unveiling the truth beneath their strength is essential.
After all, let’s remember that our farmers carry the immense responsibility of feeding the world, so their mental wellness should be a collective responsibility that we all share. #WeTalkWeGrow
Thompson, R., Hagen, B. N., Lumley, M. N., Winder, C. B., Gohar, B., & Jones-Bitton, A. (2022). Mental Health and Substance Use of Farmers in Canada during COVID-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(20), 13566.
By Allison Hancock, Farmer Wellness Coordinator, NSFA