Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/2/2010 (4312 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He pressed home his point by warning: "If I want to talk to one of my clients, I'd better not find him at the curling rink," or words to that effect.
The gist of his remarks were that farming, now that external credit was involved, had become a high-stakes game that no longer allowed such time-wasting pursuits -- at least not during bankers' hours.
Over time, the opportunities for farmers to get together and visit as neighbours -- the kind of gathering that keeps folks in touch with each other's lives -- have diminished. Many of those old curling rinks, once hotbeds of community life during the winter months, are now closed due to shrinking rural populations.
The distance between farmsteads has grown and more farmers are taking jobs away from the farm, while still juggling their farm work with family needs. The infamous Coffee Row, where farmers gathered to whine, is now more myth than reality in many parts of the province.
We are now decades into this transformation and there is evidence these trends are taking their toll on farmers' mental health.
Farming, once considered the epitome of a healthy, balanced lifestyle, is now associated with rising levels of stress, isolation and depression -- especially among men.
When the Brandon-based Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line first began operating 10 years ago, it received a few hundred calls a year. Now it is routinely answering more than 2,000 calls annually from women and men who are suffering the effects. While fewer than half of its calls come from men, many of the calls from women are out of concern about men in their lives.
Some of those increased calls are no doubt associated with rising awareness in the farm community. People know that when they call the line, they'll be talking to someone who has farm experience and understands what they are going through.
Callers receive moral support and guidance towards additional help, whether that is a safe haven from an abusive relationship or mediation services to address overwhelming debt.
There is little doubt among health-care professionals stress levels on the farm are also increasing -- and that men experience the negative effects, which can include depression, differently than women.
Men are less likely to talk about problems and more likely to express what psychologists describe as "acting out" behaviour through aggression, addiction, impulsiveness or by withdrawing -- easy to do when farm life already tends to be solitary. Men are also four times more likely to commit suicide.
Two workshops, sponsored by the United Way and organized by the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line and Brandon Regional Health Authority, are planned for Brandon Feb. 16 and 18 to zero in on male depression on the farm.
One of the featured speakers is Gerry Friesen, a former hog farmer who works with the Manitoba Farm Debt Mediation Board and as a private mediation consultant. Part of his role in the workshops, however, will be to tell his own story about how stress led to anxiety, and anxiety led to depression.
Friesen says he lived behind a facade for years. On the outside, he was a successful Wawanesa-area farmer and well-known pork industry leader. On the inside, he was drowning in a black hole. He has a hunch there are many in the farming community who know how that feels.
Janet Smith, manager of the stress line, said Friesen's decision to share his story would help others do the same. "He's really putting himself out there. But in a concrete way, he is breaking the stigma. Hopefully, the spinoff will be that more people call the line when they need it."
"Depression is not the nasty word it once was, but we still have a long ways to go," she said.
Friesen eventually started talking to a friend. Then, with support from his family, he sought help developing better coping skills. He's had his ups and downs along the way, and says he's still on that journey.
Excessive use of cigarettes and alcohol has been replaced by a more balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise.
He's learning how to say no, after recognizing his anxiety and stress levels become unbearable when he takes on too much. And he's learning how to laugh. "The kids thought I was faking, because they had never heard me laugh out loud," he says.
Ironically, he made one other lifestyle-enriching change: He sold the farm.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email:
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.