Saint Hyacinthe – Just over 2,000 Quebec farmers reached out for mental health help in 2019, up dramatically from the 1,670 who sought help in 2018 and the 1,150 the year before that.
“It’s bad, about 72 per cent were dairy farmers,” said Rene Beauregard, director general of Au Couer des families agricole (ACFA), an organization jointly funded through the agriculture industry and the provincial government to exclusively help suffering farmers.
In 2018 – when 70 per cent seeking help were dairy producers – “they were worried about financial stress, this year there was the reality of financial stress,” said Beauregard. That was the central reason for most farmers seeking help, he said.
Another statistic within the numbers of farmers seeking help that Beauregard tracks is the number of first-time farmers using the services.
Many farmers are repeats, that they help and guide year after year, but in the last three years there have been 1,200 first time people, said Beauregard.
The provincial government has stepped up with more funding, and with a $900,000 budget in place, Beauregard now has a field staff of 10, which is still a crippling 1:200 ratio for farmers seeking help, he said.
With the head office in Lennoxville, the organization also has a safe house in Saint Hyacinthe where an individual or family can stay in isolation. They also coordinate people trained to do livestock chores and/or fieldwork, if the farmers leave their operation to try and recover, he said.
The extra $300,000 in government funding received in December means Rachelle Houle has just joined the organization, having formerly worked in Quebec’s Health and Social Services in an urban setting
Her first day recently was spent at the Quebec Farm Show checking coats, from which ACFA will make about $8,000.
Switching her mental health expertise to ACFA and working exclusively with farmers isn’t a salary upgrade, admits Houle. “But they have such a great reputation with their mission in rural Quebec, where I’m from, that I always wanted to be a part of their team and when I heard they were hiring more people, I jumped at the opportunity.”
Other than a request to speak to the Ontario French farm organization, the neighbouring province wants no part of replicating, in whole or in part, their farmer exclusive structure for mental health, said Beauregard.
Instead Ontario focuses on raising mental health awareness, and urging farmers to seek mental health help from professionals. They may have no concept of farming and its challenges, plus they have no operational data to track farmers, said Beauregard.