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Two new investments add more resources to help farm families

CHRISTA ROETTELE, Communications Branch, OMFRA

The governments of Canada and Ontario are protecting the mental health of farmers and their families by investing more than seven million dollars through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to launch two new multi-year mental health initiatives specialized in supporting those in the agriculture sector.

The Guardians Network and a new program modelled after the successful Farmer Wellness Program pioneered by mental health specialist Deborah Vanberkel will help protect Ontario’s progress in the fight against COVID-19 by providing farm families across the province with free counselling services as well as help connect at-risk farmers with tailored support and resources. These initiatives are expected to launch early next year. They will be developed in consultation with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and other mental health sector experts.

“The farming community has demonstrated great strength and resilience throughout the pandemic, but mental health challenges often go unseen. If you are struggling, the first step is to reach out because you are not alone in facing these challenges,” said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “These new agricultural mental health programs expand resource availability to help Ontario farmers and employees if they’re struggling with their mental health.”

“I very much understand and appreciate how stressful running a farm can be, working 365 days a year and dealing with unpredictable weather, commodity prices and increasing costs of production,” said Lisa Thompson, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

“Add in the pandemic, and these pressures are having a real effect on the mental health of farmers and their families. That’s why our government is providing the necessary funding for these programs and is committed to doing everything we can to help address these challenges and support mental health in our farming communities.”

The Government of Ontario’s commitment to invest $3.8 billion over ten years to build a modern, connected mental health and addictions system that serves all Ontarians, the two new initiatives will improve the agriculture sector’s access to better supports that meet their needs.

“For the past 20 months, Ontario’s farming community has been forced to adapt to the many challenges and incredible pressures brought on by the pandemic, leading to significant impacts on mental health,” explained Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “This investment will ensure our farmers and their families have faster, easier access to the highest quality mental health and addictions supports that meet their unique needs, when and where they need them.”

“We’re very pleased to further our partnership with OMAFRA through [the] delivery of additional, much-needed mental health supports for farmers and their families,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario. “Building on the delivery of our farm mental health literacy program ‘In the Know’, the expansion of this important wellness program and introduction of a suicide prevention network will protect and enhance the mental well-being of farmers and the farm community.”

“The mental wellness of Ontario farmers is one of our biggest priorities, so we are excited to partner with CMHA Ontario and our provincial and federal governments to raise awareness about these two programs,” stated Peggy Brekveld, President of Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “The targeted initiatives will be invaluable to farmers and throughout the agriculture sector.”

These programs directly result from numerous roundtable discussions and other engagements with farmers about their mental health concerns. The design seeks to further enhance numerous other government-led mental health enhancement actions, such as an expansion of the ‘In the Know’ program.

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