Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for the opportunity to come before you today.
I'm Paul Glenn. I'm from the Canadian Young Farmers' Forum, a national organization dedicated to young farmers 18 to 40 years of age from across Canada.
Agriculture producers face unique struggles and stresses, time constraints, and demands on their time, young farmers especially, because they are building businesses and families and typically doing the heavy lifting in family farming operations.
Farmers, like everyone, want to succeed for themselves and their families, but failure is a common occurrence and mostly from uncontrollable forces. Farmers also have financial worries and uncontrolled challenges, from weather challenges to political, social and economic challenges, and the list goes on. Young farmers can experience not just days or weeks but months and years of relentless pressure and uncontrolled stresses that can compound, causing physical and mental health issues.
Three years ago during an open forum consultation, we asked participants at the national young farmers forum to identify ways that Canadian Young Farmers' Forum could support them and ideas for programming that they felt were needed. A young man stood up and suggested that the agriculture industry needs to provide support and training on stress management. This was a humbling moment, because farmers in general do not openly speak of what is considered in their minds to be a sign of weakness.
Since that conference we have added education for stress management and self-care presentations to our annual conference. We have delivered a few more provincial sessions on these topics and have discovered a great need for more action.
The majority of young farmers are stressed. What we have learned is that our members are ready to ease the burden of their stress by opening up to their peers. We have witnessed producers weep during presentations on this topic and have learned that producers are willing to discuss this tough but growing concern in our industry. It was also easy to see that stress is very common among young producers.
As you are also aware, there are several statistics that clearly tell us that mental health is a growing concern in our industry and that an alarming number of people are taking their lives.
Not only is stress affecting the mental health of our producers; it is also taking a toll on the physical health of many. Farmers residing in rural communities have limited access to facilities and health care that can support their stage of being. Often, the services required for mental health are services that individuals must pay for. The unfortunate truth is that farmers rarely invest in anything other than their operation, let alone in themselves.
Another challenge is that farmers aren't clear on when to reach out for help. There is a need for education and self-identification in mental health and on timing for treatment before it becomes an emergency. There needs to be training on mental health first aid, because it is hard to know what mental health conditions look like and when it is time to help. Stress is a daily way of life. I can see the stress in the faces of my neighbours, but what is the right course of action?
Resources are limited for many producers, and they vary from province to province. Producers don't know where to go for help, other than to the family doctor. It can take months in wait times to see a specialist for treatment in non-emergency situations.
Taking time off from the operation to address health issues is often very difficult for producers and is offset by more time being needed to catch up or to struggle to find employees just to take time off, let alone make an appointment in some place hours away, causing more stress.
We need to encourage self-care and increase the understanding and awareness of the signs and symptoms of when to intervene, as well as of the types of mental health issues people face, such as depression, anxiety, social anxiety.
We need to create spaces for more social interaction and face-to-face events to bring young farmers to share vulnerabilities and experiences to support each other. We need to increase knowledge of not being alone and have more conversations and consultation with farmers by region to learn what symptoms farmers are facing and what support they need by region, as this will vary.
The Canadian Young Farmers' Forum intends to help by doing consultations, such as open forum discussions to find out directly from producers what they are facing and what they need; presentations and education sessions across Canada to raise awareness, provide education, and help producers understand the signs and symptoms and what to do and when; social media outreach to increase awareness of self-care practices, posting articles and resources to guide farmers to where resources exist; and collaboration with other organizations to work together to find solutions.
In conclusion, I have realized that there is a lot about mental health that I don't know, but we still need to find ways to address this growing issue. The future of agriculture depends on it.