Thank you very much.
We all know a Joe. I come from a family farm in northern Saskatchewan. My Uncle Joe did the same thing. Fortunately, he didn't die, but he lost half his face.
Long before I came to Ottawa to represent social workers, I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. Again, I have first-hand experience with this. I grew up with a long proud history of grain farmers, with my generation being the first who didn't carry it forward.
I took a less stressful route. I became a registered social worker, one of approximately 50,000 social workers in Canada, who can be found in hospitals, schools, community centres, correctional facilities, and many other places providing mental health services to Canadians.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this committee taking on this important issue and highlighting the fact that mental health and mental health supports in the agriculture community need to be addressed.
Having reviewed the list of other witnesses at this committee, I know you've heard statistics about farmers' mental health. You've heard about the results of the 2016 University of Guelph survey, which showed that nearly half of the producers experience high stress and emotional burnout and one-third experience anxiety. You've heard that this volatile occupation is a field predominantly dominated by men, and so gender is a factor.
We know that men die by suicide more often than women in Canada, and that men are more reluctant to seek help and services. This is where the important ongoing fight against stigma comes in, which we are proud to do, not only through our own association, but through our work with the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.
Today I want to focus on one specific thing. From our perspective, access to services is one of the biggest problems facing the mental wellness of farmers and producers in Canada. I want to talk both about the levers available to the federal government, as well as how social workers can be part of the solution.
Right away, I want to acknowledge our support for the $5 billion committed in budget 2017 for mental health in this country and, prior to that, the previous government's establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. These were great steps forward, but we believe that sustained, predictable funding is required to ensure parity between physical and mental health in Canada.
Even now, Canada spends only about 7% of its health care budget on mental health, putting us way behind other countries such as the U.K., which spend an average of about 13% of their total health care budget on mental health. We can do better, and obviously we must do better.
I want to mention migrant workers. As it was before, every year, about 50,000 agri-food workers come to Canada, and they often live in poverty far away from their families. They experience myriad other stressors that can contribute to mental health concerns. On top of the challenges experienced by Canadian farmers and workers, these migrant workers are also impacted by their precarious status, experiencing social isolation, language barriers, limited access to care and services, and uncertain work conditions. More than anything, we want to ensure that the often overlooked population isn't invisible and that they're not excluded from this conversation.
Of course, next I have to address that most farmers and producers live in rural and remote areas. In 2012, a Canadian Institute for Health Information report on rural and remote Canada showed that of 11 countries, Canadians waited the longest for care. Since then, conditions have only deteriorated, with the Mental Health Commission of Canada identifying harms directly correlated to these waits. With the acute mental health challenges that can be brought on by this volatile, massively debt-loaded and unpredictable thing we call farming, wait times can be all that more harmful.
Social workers are highly trained professionals who are capable of offering many of the same therapeutic services as other professionals, but at a significantly lower cost. In a small community that can only support one mental health practitioner, a social worker provides great value with broad skill sets, and they can provide various mental health interventions.
We also know that communities are ideally served by a practitioner from their community, as we heard earlier today, who understands the particular challenges of farming and ranching. However, with many young folks like me moving to urban settings for education and training, these communities have difficulty attracting mental health professionals to come back home.
To address this, we propose that eligibility for student loan forgiveness for social workers in rural and remote contexts would greatly support the recruitment of social workers to practice and stay in their home, and to return home to their farming and ranching communities.
In closing, I want to return to my most important point. Our broadest concern is that mental health services through social workers, psychologists and other regulated professionals are not part of the publicly funded system. Our simple message is that it is unacceptable that only those with the means to pay out of pocket and the ability to access private employment insurance plans are able to receive mental health services.
Knowing that the financial concerns created by the unpredictability of farming greatly contribute to this population's stress, we believe that a publicly funded mental health system would go a very long way towards alleviating this situation.
Thank you. I look forward to answering questions.