Just a second, I'm going to start my little stopwatch, because I have a tendency to go over time.
Thank you for the invitation.
My name is Ginette Lafleur. I am a PhD candidate in community psychology at UQAM. My doctoral thesis is on suicidal behaviours among farmers.
The mental health challenges faced by the Canadian agricultural community are significant. I would say that they are even more so in times of uncertainty, or during economic or sectoral crises. The financial or relational consequences of these upheavals can jeopardise mental health and bring about an increase in deaths by suicide, at least among men.
Daily financial problems, the inability to pay debts, or financial losses can cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Financial difficulties can also contribute to deteriorating relationships between spouses or family members. Those are the people who traditionally provide some protection in cases of mental illness and suicidal behaviours among men.
A sectoral crisis also creates a climate of uncertainty in which farmers may have major decisions to make. Should they, or should they not, expand the operation? Should they, or should they not, sell it? Should they change crops? Dealing with such changes can generate a lot of anxiety.
As I said, the challenges are significant.
As for suicide prevention, many international studies show that male farmers have a much higher risk of dying by suicide, compared to other groups of workers or the general population.
Moreover, Canadian researchers have observed that, in the period from 1971 to 1987, the suicide rate among Quebec farmers was double that of men of the same age in the population of Quebec. In addition, the suicide rate increased during the period being studied, the end of which coincided with an economic recession.
However, we do not know the current extent of the problem, either in Québec or in the rest of Canada. It would be appropriate for Quebec and Canada to gather statistics on deaths by suicide by employment sector, as is the case in Scotland or France ever since those countries adopted a national suicide prevention plan. France specifically has had statistics on farm suicides since 2007.
According to the World Health Organization, farmers are one of the professional groups that is most at risk of suicide, mostly because of their stressful work environment, their isolation, and their access to lethal means. Their reluctance to express their distress and to ask for help complicates the work of prevention.
It is important to know that, by committing this ultimate act, farmers want mostly to put an end to their unbearable suffering. They see no way out. With farm suicides, the losses are often painful. These are loved ones like husbands and fathers. Financial difficulties are also an issue, with all the potential losses that it can represent: the farm, the family heritage that could not be preserved, the role of provider, self-esteem and even identity, because, for some, if they are no longer farmers, they are nothing. Records of suicides also note losses in mental or physical health that bring about major changes in the roles and tasks on the farm.
Farm suicides also cause painful family conflicts, including those between fathers and sons. Family is very important in agriculture: you work and you live as a family. You support each other but you also live through extremely painful conflicts. Family relationships in conflict are even more significant in agriculture because of the couple-family-work relationship that is more entangled than in other sectors of activity.
So the challenges are great, not only in preventing suicide but also in preventing stress.
Here is a statistic from the research I was able to do in 2006 and in 2010-2011 with Quebec dairy producers. In 2010-2011, 42% of them felt that most of their days were somewhat or extremely stressful, compared to 20% with other Québec men.
I would like to quote an eloquent testimony to the degree of stress that some producers can experience. It comes from the “Enquête sur la santé psychologique des producteurs agricoles du Québec” that I conducted in 2006:
Stress? Tell me about it! I ground my teeth so much for a number of years that they wore down about 3/8 of an inch. I am now seeing a dentist who has found a serious problem with a displaced jaw. I am also seeing a physiotherapist and a chiropractor because of problems with extreme tension in the neck and shoulders.
That producer left farming, because he could longer take it.
I see that my time is running out.
In conclusion, let me read you another comment on stress that I received from another farmer:
The environmental pressure is heavy. The administrative burden is overwhelming... The company debt. The pressure on yields, on performance. Climate change. The uncertain future of supply management. The pessimism of the media...All those things increase the stress in agriculture. All farmers want is to make a living from their work, feed their families and pass on a legacy to the next generation. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, in the current situation, it is.
I want to leave some time for Ms. Pelchat. So I will just briefly say that the challenges in preventing psychological distress are also great. Those figures are also alarming.
How can we face up to those challenges? As my answer, I will add to my researcher's hat the one as second vice-president of Au coeur des familles agricoles. The challenges can be met by responding in a way that is tailored to the farming population.
You have heard the presentations on the field workers from the representatives of Au coeur des familles agricoles. I am in total support and I could give you more details if you have any other questions. In Quebec, we have made good progress in setting up a safety net for farmers.
For the last minute, I will pass you to Ms. Pelchat, who will introduce the topic of agriculture sentinels.