As a terrible harvest season mercifully nears the end, counsellors manning the crisis lines at Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services in Brandon are readying for the calls that are sure to come in.
Farmers have been hit with drought, too much rain and an early snowstorm that have combined to make this a year to remember — or more accurately, to forget.
"For the grain farmers out there, that has meant a difficult three-part punch," program manager Janet Smith said in an interview with the Sun.
"It feels like everybody in the agricultural industry has really been hit in one way or another by Mother Nature or by other forces outside their control."
Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services is a program of Klinic Community Health.
The Brandon office manages three crisis lines, including the farm crisis line, the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support line and the Klinic crisis line.
The latter two are shared with their counterparts in Winnipeg, who are there 24 hours a day to answer the phones or chat online with callers.
In the last year, the three lines have received 5,000 calls, Smith said.
"We anticipate that this year on the farm line itself we’re going to see an increase in calls, just because of what we’re seeing in the world of farming, both weather-wise and global markets," Smith said. "There’s been a lot of pressure on farmers."
Once the harvest is done for the year, and farmers have time to catch their breath and ruminate on what’s in store for them ahead, that’s when the stress really starts to build, Smith said.
"If there’s a really big crisis, then there’s a lull and then we start hearing from people when things settle down."
Kim Hyndman-Moffat has been a counsellor with the program since it began in 2000.
"We’re certainly hearing that this has been a very unusual year, one of the probably most stressful and unpredictable that farmers have experienced in a long time," said Hyndman-Moffat who, like many of the other paid and volunteer counsellors, has a farm background.
While 80 per cent of the crops in Manitoba are now in the bin, there’s still 20 per cent left on the ground, "and those folks are desperate to get those crops off and are working around the clock, sometimes, to get it into the bins," she said.
"So, I’m hearing that farmers are physically exhausted and mentally exhausted."
They are looking at the difficult decisions they will have to make financially and the impact it will have on the bottom line, she added.
Hyndman-Moffat said they are also hearing from other front-line workers such as those in the farm-lending industry or grain elevator workers "who are really seeing first-hand the impact it’s having on farmers and wondering how to support them, what can they do."
Smith said it can be difficult for farmers to open up and seek help from strangers.
A study of 1,100 Canadian farmers, conducted by the University of Guelph, found that farmers had very high stress levels and very low help-seeking behaviours.
Many were experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, Smith said, yet 40 per cent of them said they wouldn’t seek out help.
"That’s certainly one of the challenges that we have," she said.
The good news is, that leaves 60 per cent who said they are willing to reach out.
The crisis lines are free and confidential, and counsellors are there to listen and offer support, Smith said.
And while some may be worried about what to expect when they call, or what they should say, "Really, it’s just as simple as picking up the phone or going online and starting anywhere and we will help guide the conversation," she said.
The number to call is 1-866-367-3276. The live chat line is at supportline.ca.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 4, 2019