Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Janet Smith. I'm the program manager with the Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services. With me is Kim Hyndman-Moffat, a counsellor and trainer with our program. Together, we hope to provide the standing committee with a better understanding of our program and how it helps serve the mental health needs of farmers in our province, as well as identify needs, best practices, resources, gaps and recommendations.
The Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern Support Services—MFRNSS—is located in Brandon, Manitoba, the agricultural hub of the province. We are an off-site program of Klinic Community Health, which is located in Winnipeg. We've been in operation since 2000 and are funded by our provincial government's Department of Health. The MFRNSS offers free and confidential information, support, counselling and referrals for farmers, as well as rural and northern Manitobans. Counselling takes place over the phone and online. All staff have both professional counselling and farming backgrounds. We also do outreach and public education, and we run a volunteer training program and a monthly suicide bereavement support group.
The standing committee has heard from numerous stakeholders on the challenges facing modern-day farmers. Long hours, isolation, market fluctuations, financial insecurity, crop and livestock disease, and weather are just some of the factors outside of a farmer's control. Farming is, by nature, a risky business, and farmers are no stranger to stress. However, when this stress goes for on a long time without resolution, it can turn to distress.
Recent research out of the University of Guelph has shown that Canadian farmers have high stress levels and are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and burnout than the general population. Farmers also have low help-seeking behaviours due to a variety of factors, including perceived stigma, a stoic farm culture, less access to mental health services in many rural areas, and lack of understanding of the counselling process itself and how it might help.
While no current Canadian research into farm suicides exists, we would argue that farmers are an at-risk group given their high stress levels, low help-seeking behaviours and access to lethal means, such as guns, pesticides and even tractor rollovers. Unfortunately, we in the ag industry know of many farm suicides that are not publicly identified as such.