PEI

Why a P.E.I. med student is looking for farm families to talk about stress

Jillian Tweedy grew up on a dairy farm on Prince Edward Island. So when she was looking for a project in third-year medical school, one of her supervisors at Dalhousie University encouraged her to look at the stress facing farm families in her home province.

'There's a lot of people in the agriculture community who do experience stress, depression, anxiety'

Jillian Tweedy poses with one of her 4-H calves. (Submitted by Jillian Tweedy)

Jillian Tweedy grew up on a dairy farm on Prince Edward Island. So when she was looking for a project in third-year medical school, one of her supervisors at Dalhousie University encouraged her to look at the stress facing farm families in her home province.

"I was born and raised on a dairy farm on Prince Edward Island so I feel like I, throughout my whole life, have seen the different stress that farm families see," said Tweedy, who's back on P.E.I. doing a rotation in the emergency room in Montague.

"Then while I was in medical school I realized how big a stigma there still was around mental health, especially in some areas such as farming."

The title of Tweedy's study is Mental Health and Resiliency in Farming Families on P.E.I.

"There's a lot of people in the agriculture community who do experience stress, depression, anxiety," Tweedy said. 

"But the resiliency is their ability to overcome these, to move forward, to continue to do what they love and farm."

Jillian Tweedy grew up on Tween Bay Farms in Earnscliffe, P.E.I. (Submitted by Jillian Tweedy)

'A little bit more open'

Tweedy has seen the issue firsthand.

"There's definitely a lot of stress and occasional burnout that I feel like my father does feel," Tweedy said. 

"There's been a few suicides in the past few years of people on Prince Edward Island and also in Ontario that the family has known."

The Tweedy family won a Masters Breeders award for Tween Bay Farms in 2009. (Submitted by Jillian Tweedy)

Talking about the issue, she says, is key.

"Exposure, showing how many people are affected by mental health challenges, talk about it and move forward," Tweedy said. 

"Hearing more about it and especially in the farming community where it's so small, having farmers talk to each other about it, to be a little bit more open."

Important work

Tweedy's supervisor at Dalhousie is pleased that her student is taking on this issue.

"I think it's very important work that needs to be done," said Judy Guernsey, a professor in the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie.

"I think it's particularly important for this region. People, I think, need to be reminded that farmers are a very important part of our community and we need to ensure they are well supported."

Jillian Tweedy is looking for 10 farmers to take part in the study. (Barnyard Organics/Facebook)

Guernsey says Tweedy brings a personal understanding along with her medical knowledge.

"She has the benefit of having lived in a farming environment and understanding what some of the stresses are so she certainly has a lot of insight into that," Guernsey said.

"Hopefully she'll be able to publish her work so that it will be made available to family medicine practitioners in the region so that they'll be able to move forward in enhancing services." 

Looking for participants

Tweedy has two farmers for the study so far, but she's hoping for 10 participants. 

"We certainly hope people do participate," said P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture executive director Robert Godfrey. 

"Mental health is something the PEIFA takes very seriously and any study that is going to further examine the issue is a study we strongly support."

Tweedy returns to Halifax mid-September and plans to do a residency in general surgery, with the goal of eventually returning to P.E.I.

Tweedy returns to Halifax mid-September and plans to do a residency in general surgery, with the goal of eventually returning to P.E.I. (Submitted by Jillian Tweedy)

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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