P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture wants to offer mental health first-aid training
'Encourage people to get the help that they need'
The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture hopes to expand its Farmer Assistance Program this year to include mental health first-aid.
The confidential program currently provides qualified counsellors to farmers dealing with a number of issues ranging from depression and anxiety to concerns about finances or relationships.
"We want to come forward with what's called mental health first-aid," said Robert Godfrey, executive director of the federation.
However to take advantage of the program it requires people to pick up the phone and reach out for help. Some people are hesitant to make that phone call, Godfrey said.
"It takes a lot of courage to pick up the phone and dial a number, you know, not knowing necessarily what is on the other end of that phone," he said.
Godfrey said the plan is to train staff, commodity group staff, agriculture retailers, veterinarians and others to look for signs of mental illness in farmers and how to better address those issues.
"Encourage people to get the help that they need so that we don't have these people falling through the cracks," Godfrey said.
Numbers up in 2019
Godfrey said more people used the program in 2019 compared to other years.
"Looking at a jump of about 50 interviews, different interviews, and a lot more people joining the program," he said.
Godfrey said farmers on the Island have been dealing with a rough few years and that is likely why numbers are up. He said the fall of 2018 was cold, snowy and wet, which meant crops were left in the ground. The renegotiation of NAFTA also caused strain on Island farmers, Godfrey said.
"I think people looked for someone to talk to.… I'm happy our program was there," he said.
Proposal for funding
However, Godfrey said he thinks there are areas of the program that can be improved.
"I don't think you are ever going to capture everyone, but certainly we know that we can do better," he said. "I think it is important that we get that training and really try and ensure that we're giving people the opportunity to get the help they need."
Godfrey said a proposal is in the works now for government funding for mental health first-aid and he is hoping there will be two or three training sessions this year.
"I think it is a real opportunity for industry and government to work together," he said.
Farmers can access the program by calling 902-626-9787.
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With files from Angela Walker