Sleep Hygiene and Mental Wellness

When it comes to sleep, there are many benefits to living in rural communities, such as less traffic noise and artificial lights. Those involved in agricultural careers are more likely to sleep and wake with the cycle of the sun, which can be helpful for maintaining consistent sleep routines. Yet according to the Sleep Association, those in rural communities struggle with sleep just as much as those in urban areas. This could be due to many different factors, such as stress levels and greater health inequalities, or the fact that sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is just difficult no matter where you live.

Regardless of where you live, getting enough sleep is one of the most critical actions you can take to maintain overall wellness. Restful sleep benefits your memory, creativity, concentration, problem-solving skills—and, of course, your physical and mental health!

Lack of sleep can cause many problems, including irritation and forgetfulness. Over time, lack of sleep contributes to depression and anxiety. Taking a proactive approach can help mitigate these problems.

Sleep guidelines tend to vary according to age, outlined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. Every individual is different, but the general recommendation for most adults is 7 to 9 hours per night. Sleeping in excess of this amount of hours may be a sign of other problems, but generally people struggle with not getting enough sleep, rather than getting too much.

Sleep Hygiene Strategies

  • There are many things you can do to get better sleep. For best sleep hygiene, pay attention to both your practical routines and your physical environment.
  • Maintain a regular schedule. Aim for a consistent sleep and wake-up time every day. You may want to allow for some sleep-in flexibility over the weekend, but it’s a good idea to keep this variation minimal (e.g. a difference of two hours or less).
  • Budget wind-down time. Spend the last 30 minutes before bed doing something relaxing (e.g. taking a bath, listening to soft music, or reading a book).
  • Watch your screen time. Try to take a break from your phone, iPad, and other electronic devices during your wind-down time. Avoid bringing these devices to bed.
  • Monitor your napping schedule. If you take a nap during the day, schedule this nap no later than the early afternoon to avoid disruption to sleep schedules later.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine, sweets, alcohol, or large meals close to bedtime. Having a light snack before bed may help, but be mindful about what you consume. While many of us enjoy a cup of coffee, consume it in moderation and give the caffeine time to leave your system before your scheduled sleep cycle.
  • Restrict the use of your bed. Doing so will help your body to associate being in bed with rest and relaxation. Most importantly, ensure that you are not working in bed.
  • Get physical exercise and exposure to sunshine during the course of your day if you’re not already doing so. Being physically active and spending time outdoors will help regulate your circadian rhythm. These habits are also good for boosting your overall mood.
  • Find a temperature that is comfortable for you. Many people find that they sleep best when they turn the temperature down a degree or two.
  • Reduce and control your light exposure. Depending on your circumstances, room-darkening curtains and/or eye masks may be useful.
  • Silence or block out distracting sounds. You may find it helpful to use ear plugs, a white noise machine or a noise-blocking app.
  • Use quality bedding and pillows. You don’t need to invest in an expensive mattress, but it’s a good idea to ensure that your materials support and promote your comfort.

Making Positive Changes

Cultivating a healthy sleep routine takes time. It’s okay to start small! Rather than try to manage everything all at once, we suggest picking a few strategies to target right away and then add new habits as you are ready. Tracking your patterns over time can also help you make progress! You can use a sleep diary to help you see how you’re doing.

If you find yourself unable to sleep after you go to bed, experts suggest that it’s best not to lie there, tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do a soothing activity in dim light (e.g. sit on the couch and listen to music or use an adult coloring book). Return to bed when you feel you are ready to sleep.

Getting a good sleep is easier said than done, but keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing matter. Strive for slow, practical, and feasible gains. Most importantly, do not stress about any difficulties you may have falling asleep. That will only exacerbate the problem! Treat yourself with kindness and compassion at every step. Embracing the reality that not every day–or every night–is perfect will ultimately help you on your journey to better sleep

The Value of Support From Someone Who Has Been There

The Following Is From An Interview With Robyn Priest

Being supported by others who have shared your struggles and know what it’s like is the foundation of peer support. For those living in rural and agricultural communities, the Stigma Free Society has partnered with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH to offer peer support worker training funded by Pacific Blue Cross. With this training, individuals in rural communities can start their own support groups.

Robyn Priest kindly spoke to us about the benefits and values of peer support work.

What is mental health peer support and how did you become involved in this world?

For me mental health peer support is about people who have experienced mental health challenges supporting others who are dealing with mental health challenges. It gives a sense of being “normal”, not someone weird; that I am not alone, not the only person experiencing this. I was diagnosed over 25 years ago and there was a job advertised at something called the Wellington Mental Health Consumers Union In New Zealand. I was like, that sounds pretty cool, everyone has their own mental health challenges. It started there and I just kept getting more and more involved. It made sense to me that people who were dealing with their own stuff could chat about it and be real with others. It’s been a great ride, and I have worked in 10 different countries talking about peer support.

Can you talk about what makes peer support unique compared to something like therapy or other mental health resources?

It’s about camaraderie, having someone to talk to who “gets it”. Peer support comes without an agenda. I am NOT trying to get people to do anything. It’s about supporting people to explore what they want in life. I can share my own experiences and how I got through difficult times, something that’s not always encouraged or allowed in other mental health professions. It’s not my job to fix, save or solve anyone’s issues. Peer supporters are there for the person they are supporting, while sometimes the rest of a team may be trying to get the person to take their meds or achieve a certain recovery goal that has been decided for the person. Peer supporters support the individual to explore what they want.

Peer support lacks hierarchies and expert/ patient roles. What is the value of being supported by a peer who has gone through a similar experience, compared to the support received by a clinician?

Often, we are told we don’t have the education, but we do, it’s just a different education. Our practicum may have been being homeless, or in a psych ward, surviving while using substances, etc. Those are real life experiences and skills that we can share. Someone once described peer support as describing the colour blue to someone who had sight and lost it, versus describing the colour blue to someone who never had sight (the clinician). I know that many people working in the mental health field have their own experiences, but it’s about what their job description says they are required to do. As I said earlier, peer support helps people feel less alone, like someone gets them. That they have an ally. If we can support the system to allow peer support to stay true to the Mental Health Commission of Canada peer support values and allow other clinicians to do their job – it’s a win-win for the individual being supported.

Peer support can benefit both the one being supported and the peer support worker. Can you talk more about this?

Peer support, for me, is about mutuality. I am not better than, or more “recovered” than anyone else. I am working on myself everyday and sometimes when we both share experiences, I learn other coping skills/strategies from that person. It’s not about me as a peer supporter requesting support, or sharing all my issues, it’s just in conversation that things transpire. I am there to support that person but we both learn and grow from any discussion.

Can you talk about some of the values within peer support and why they are relevant to mental wellness?

The values of peer support are about being human as far as I am concerned. The MHCC values of peer support are:

  • Hope and Recovery
  • Self-Determination
  • Empathetic and Equal Relationships
  • Dignity, respect, and social inclusion
  • Integrity, authenticity, and trust
  • Health and wellness
  • Lifelong learning and personal growth

For me the values are about being a “real” person at all times, doing what I say I will do, supporting people to choose what they want in life, not thinking I know what others should do, treating everyone with respect, thinking about people as “whole” people not just about their mental health (my mental health is only a part of me, not all of me) and always being willing to learn and grow. I want that for all humanity.

What does strengths-based support mean to you?

We are so often told what we can’t do, or shouldn’t do because it’s too stressful, but strengths-based support says: look at how strong you are, how resilient, how resourceful. Someone may be labelled manipulative, but if I come from a strengths-based approach, that person is a great negotiator (getting their needs met), creative and strategic in how they go about things. Those are great skills to have. Imagine being told you are manipulative versus being told you have great negotiation skills, are creative and strategic. Then I ask, how can you use those amazing skills in life to have the life you want? It’s about supporting people to see themselves not as a victim, or at the mercy of their mental health challenge, but that they can go after what they want in life. We can all go after things in life, we don’t always get what we want but that’s life for everyone – not just people with mental health challenges. I want to support people to dream big and at least try to go after what they want, to not be shut down by people saying it’s unrealistic or not appropriate. Nobody can determine that but the person themselves.

For more information and to register for peer support training, please go HERE or email info@stigmafreesociety.com. The next training session will be happening in June.
Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training is free of cost, with a $50 deposit required to secure your spot. Your deposit will be refunded once you attend the session, unless you choose to donate the $50 to the Stigma-Free Society. Donations are always welcome! Deposits for those who do not participate cannot be refunded.

Spots fill up quickly, so register as soon as possible. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to build skills for cultivating empathy and understanding in your local community

Addressing Substance Use Stigma in Rural Communities

Matt Begg works for the Umbrella Society, which is an organization supporting those who use substances, and he has generously shared important insights and information about addressing stigma and supporting those with substance use challenges.

Can you describe your role with the Umbrella Society and your passion behind this work?

I work in Umbrella Society’s housing team as an outreach and support worker for clients who live with addiction. In this role, I develop ongoing relationships with clients in order to help them navigate the various systems and organisations in place to get the help they might need. This looks like referring people to treatment centres or helping clients with basic tasks, like getting their ID or paying taxes. Someone might need a doctor’s appointment or a counsellor, so I’ll help them with that as well. Of course, we also work thoroughly with overdose prevention, both in terms of providing it ourselves as well as teaching clients how to use the tools and contact the authorities when necessary. I also try to support clients with positive reinforcement, and through my past as a client of Umbrella myself, exemplify that people can overcome addiction if that’s something that they want. In short, we’re trying to bring care and much needed support to these communities.

What kind of harmful assumptions and stigma still exist around substance use? Can you break down some of these myths for us?

I think things are getting better to a degree, but absolutely, our clients still face tremendous stigma at all levels of society. They’re often assumed to be dangerous criminals, diseased and dirty. Perhaps the most common thing I hear is that they’re lazy, don’t want to be productive and would rather leech off the system. The truth is that all sorts of people can suffer from addiction, regardless of their behaviour, how they look, class, cultural heritage, or how they live their lives. That said, I would say that often people who suffer from addiction are dealing with some kind of pain. It can be physical, emotional or it could be an ongoing mental health issue. For them, drugs are often like a self-prescribed medicine (or an attempt at it) that allows them to manage living day-to-day.

Are there particular challenges in rural communities when it comes to substance use and the stigma that often surrounds people who use substances?

Absolutely. Drugs are often used as a cure for pain. So, the further removed clients are from resources to deal with their pain in a healthy way, the more likely it is for addiction to continue and worsen with those clients. In the case of clients who have emotional trauma and unresolved emotional pain from their past, the isolation caused by stigma can often amplify the problem. If they already have unresolved trauma, dealing with the implications of addiction, feeling isolated and rejected by their community is only going to make matters worse. In rural places where isolation is more exacerbated and addiction services are minimal, this is even more of a problem. A common phrase in this line of work is “the opposite of addiction is connection,” and that really is true. What people suffering with addiction require is community support and being treated with dignity, care and love.

In more populated places like cities, people in addiction have a lot of community and social options. They can find anonymity when that is valuable, and they can find large communities of people in similar situations and are surrounded by considerably more support. Unfortunately, when we look at rural communities, it’s really hard for people in addiction to feel anonymous or to find large-scale community support. When you couple that with the stigma that most addicts are aware of, it can be difficult for somebody in addiction to even justify walking into a grocery store or a coffee shop. Feeling judged or degraded by one’s own community will only serve to create further anxiety and shame in that person, which of course will be worse for their addiction.

If any community, rural or otherwise, wishes to address addiction seriously, then love, care and empathy need to be forefront, using a non-judgmental approach.

How does this stigma discourage people from reaching out for help and accessing needed support?

It is a huge deterrent for clients accessing services. Like I was saying about someone in addiction not wanting to go to a grocery store for fear of being treated poorly or judged, those same feelings of shame can prevent somebody from accessing the services that they need. If you feel like being labelled a drug addict comes with all these other negative stigmas, then why would you go access services that are for drug addicts in any kind of a public way? This is amplified considerably in rural areas where somebody is trying to maintain their own dignity in a closely knit and transparent community.

Alternatively, if addiction was always met with empathy and care, people would be far more likely to access services. It all comes down to care and dignity.

What kind of support exists for people using substances (especially in rural communities)?

If somebody is coping with addiction and looking for supports, there are all kinds out there. A person could reach out for counselling or access a 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. From a medical perspective, a person could also speak with their doctor about various pharmaceutical solutions. If a person is hoping to overcome their addiction, they can usually find a local medical detox, and if more is needed there are treatment centres and sober living solutions in most places. A lot of these facilities accept people from abroad, making them ideal for people in rural areas. For people who are just trying to maintain an addiction in a healthier way, there are harm reduction organizations and doctors that can offer safe supply (in some places), and even supervised locations where you can use drugs in order to help prevent and treat overdoses. Of course, if somebody wants an outreach worker to help them navigate this sometimes complicated network of options, they can always contact an organization such as Umbrella.

Thankfully, more and more organizations such as these are becoming available. Community and healthcare professionals and governments are starting to realize that treating addiction as part of a greater mental health solution works very well and can save lives. That said, there’s still a lot of social stigma that gets in the way of programs like these being implemented. As we continue to replace stigma with actual education about addiction, I’m sure programs like these will become better funded and more accessible.

Can you explain what a harm-reduction approach is?

Harm Reduction is a strategy for approaching addiction that seeks to reduce harm within the practices of that addiction, be that physical or emotional harm. This approach is opposed to strategies like criminalization or abstinence, where people aren’t given care if they’re still involved in drugs. In a harm reduction approach, people are given care and solutions that fit their needs. Of course, if somebody wants to get sober, services would certainly be provided to achieve that, but for people still in active addiction, a harm reduction approach aims to support them as best as possible despite their continued use. This can take the form of outreach services, safe supply of non-street drugs, clean and unused drug paraphernalia, safe sex supplies and education, safe drug use sites, elevated medical and clinical support, and an overall practice of treating people with care and love.

A common misunderstanding about harm reduction is that it causes elevated drug use in communities, the misconception being that if it’s easier to get drugs and easier to get the tools to get drugs, then more people will do drugs. But repeated studies have shown this is not the case. Ultimately, living a life entrenched in addiction isn’t glamorous or fun, so providing adequate support for people doesn’t make it any more appealing.

How can family, friends and community members best support someone who is struggling with substance use?

“The opposite of addiction is connection” is a pretty good baseline for making decisions around helping people with addiction in our lives. For people hoping to help members of their communities and their loved ones, I would definitely say first and foremost to let the person know they are loved and they are valued. Beyond that, helping to connect them to an outreach worker or a social worker who can tackle some of the more complex systemic stuff would be really helpful. Oftentimes, people in addiction know they need help but struggle to know exactly what they should do and in what order. Trying to navigate complex intake forms and treatment applications while also trying to manage an active addiction is pretty difficult. Also, making sure to consult a medical professional before trying to quit drugs is very important. Some addictions require constant medical supervision due to the dangers of such considerable chemical changes in a person’s body. And lastly, I would say familiarize yourself with how to access and use harm reduction supplies. Naloxone kits save lives everyday, so get your hands on one and learn how to use it.

For people in addiction, simply showing them that you love them and you’re going to be there is enough to help them start making healthier decisions. Many people in addiction struggle with shame and guilt and depression, so whatever you can do to not be a part of that cycle in terms of the way you talk to and treat them will be of tremendous value. It all comes back to care and dignity.

The Impact of Stigma on Mental Illness

Stigma has a terrible impact on mental illness. Stigma is based on stereotypes and assumptions about our differences. Characteristics such as race, gender identity, a disability, mental illness or any other noticeable difference can be directly targeted, and often unintentionally. Stigma can affect all people, but especially people from marginalized groups.

Stigma can lead to discrimination such as physical and mental abuse, including neglect, and can have a negative enough impact to even be life-threatening. Discrimination can either compound mental illness or be a factor that contributes to the development of mental illness in an otherwise healthy person.

Social stigma is a harmful, inaccurate, or unfair judgment about members of society who often have a noticeable or perceived difference. People follow stereotypes which can cause them to incorrectly assume that others with differences will typically act inappropriately, fail in their social contribution, and be unworthy of care and positive regard.

Self stigma is another form of stigma that can be very harmful. Self-stigma is a negative view of oneself where one may unfairly judge one’s own characteristics and behaviour. In many cases, self-stigma can arise from the impact of social stigma and can also fuel social stigma, as the presentation of self-stigma, such as low self-esteem, can confirm stereotypical views.

Groups in society have certain views about how we are expected to act or look, and how people with differences should be treated. Stigma may cause others to blame or reject another person because of concerns or differences that are caused by biological, psychological, social, or environmental factors. Through every-day social-learning, people in society learn and normalize stigma towards others. This happens when those around us and the media we consume share stereotypes that may be inaccurate and cause us to make false assumptions about people.

Discrimination based on stigma in daily life can lead to anything from mild rudeness to bullying, serious verbal abuse and physical assault. Resources can be cut off because of stigma. This unfair treatment cannot be justified, yet sometimes the dynamics and unfair judgments of a social network and society enable it. A person and their behaviour can be seen through the filter of an assumed problem within their differences, rather than identifying the person’s actual character or attributes. For example, a person may be treated as poorly, even bullied or ostracized, just because they talk a certain way or have a certain look about them. When their “different” behaviour, that would otherwise be acceptable or welcomed, is attached to a label or stereotype about their character, they can be treated as dangerous or incompetent just because of the stigma of that label. This can have a huge impact on a person’s day-to-day functioning. Stigma can limit a person’s chance of success in socializing, seeking employment and other opportunities.

The stress from stigma has a negative impact on most people and can worsen or be a factor in developing mental health challenges. Those with a diagnosis of mental illness, or experiencing symptoms, may already deal with the extra stress of stigma because they are a visible and targeted group. People with or without a diagnosis can be more predisposed to mental illness through factors like genetics, biology, history and environment. Stigma, such as bullying, is much more likely to trigger mental health challenges when a person is predisposed to mental illness.

Stigma can make a good person seem ‘bad’. The limited view of society and the public eye can often miss the true nature of peoples’ individual lives. Every day, so many well-meaning people are bullied or discriminated against because of a stigmatizing judgment about them. People in society put up barriers because of their social expectations around stereotypes. This can make many tasks in life instantly harder for people with differences, even getting groceries or going to the beach. At every turn stigma can wear a person down causing major challenges in life.
This can cause a person to feel reduced hope, lower self-esteem, difficulties with social relationships and more difficulties at work and school. Stigma can be thoroughly draining.

Peoples’ stigmatized behaviour can be viewed as unacceptable, even though their contribution to society is fair to excellent. Regardless of their contribution, everyone has the right to dignity and respect. With an understanding and education about the person’s history, condition and relevant social or environmental factors in a situation, this stigma can often be averted, and a person and their behaviour can become accepted.

The combination of social stigma and self-stigma can cause people to believe insults and degrading language that they hear from others. The stress of bullying and unfair practices with stigma can cause serious harm, especially to those most vulnerable. If people in general could learn more about mental illness, stigma, and mental health, and open lines of communication before stigma becomes a problem, then those living with mental health challenges will undoubtedly experience greater acceptance and wellbeing.

Tips To Help You Manage Different Perspectives

It may seem like a difficult task in today’s landscape to work with or be around others who have differing opinions, beliefs and behaviours than you. However, suppose you can find a way to look past those differences and make them work for you. If that were the case, you could have a powerful team, more loving family dynamic, more open minded network or collaborative working relationship with others that is healthy, creative and successful despite differing views.
It’s common to think you have the “right” answer to something based on your own experiences, knowledge, and conditioning; but the minute you believe your own perspective is the absolute truth you tend to stop listening to others. This creates conflict, division and a fixed mindset that stops inner growth or development of a relationship.

It’s essential in business (and in life) to learn how to work with and include the views of others who have differing opinions and do things differently than you. As a business owner, it’s important that you don’t undermine your team members or clients. As an individual, you don’t want to alienate your loved ones, friends or potential connections by openly criticizing their opinions. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to be open and honest about your thoughts and opinions as long as it’s communicated in a respectful way.
So, how do you successfully work with or stay in healthy relationships with others who have different opinions from you or do things differently?

Engage In Healthy Debate And Discussions

Take an active interest in what others bring to the table by asking them for their ideas and input. You open yourself up to the person and new possibilities by doing this. Make a point of taking away at least one piece of new information, insight or validating thought that backs your own viewpoint.

Pinpoint Areas Of Strength And Zones Of Genius

Everyone has a unique set of strengths that are different from yours. When you understand them and make the most of them, everyone contributes the best of themselves and you can achieve more. This will also help reduce the risk of competition as people feel uniquely needed in their role.

Let Go Of Needing To Be Right

Remind yourself that your opinion or solution might not be the right or only one. In fact, assume that there is a good chance that they are about, or at least 50% wrong. What would that mean in regards to the opinions and viewpoints you hold? Is there some room for flexibility in thinking?

Effectively managing different opinions means welcoming all options rather than fearing them. When two people or more have different opinions, start by viewing it as a good thing and think about how you can learn from each view. The solution may lie in a combination of different opinions.

Think About Who Shares The Same Beliefs As You

We all know the saying you are the company you keep. We are all seeking understanding and a level of belonging which can lead us astray at times. Look at the people, their opinions, their ways of thinking and most importantly their behaviours that match your values, not as a way to receive validation but to make sure you feel at home with, proud of and safe to be associated with these people and happy that others will view you the same way.

Don’t Be Rude, But Set Boundaries Like A Boss

Differences and tensions are often the results of a lack of communication. It’s crucial to communicate with intention. Share openly when appropriate, listen most of the time, have a goal to leave the person you are engaged with feeling good about you, themselves, and the conversation. Energy goes where energy flows. Do your bit to create an open and positive atmosphere.

It’s essential to learn to stay open, kind, and curious in all relationships. Each person has something to bring to the table, and when we learn to listen and communicate openly, amazing things happen!
You also have the right to refrain from discussing and debating things you feel are derailing the relationship or the atmosphere. Setting boundaries is crucial to personal safety and empowerment. Sometimes no response is the best response.
If any of these tips seem unrelatable, or not an option for you when you run up against someone with a differing view, you may need to check yourself and connect to the part of you that is not willing or open.

Ask Yourself…

What In Me Would Like To Change Something In Them?

Self inquiry is always the way to better relationships. Stop looking at someone else and assuming they need to change to make you more comfortable. Understand why you would invest in judging, criticizing or belittling someone else to make them fully wrong and you feel right. Maintaining integrity, setting healthy boundaries and agreeing to disagree are all great solutions when you find yourself in tough conversations.

Meagan Saum – Heart Centered Life and Business Coach

Navigating Financial Stress in Farming

The farming industry is particularly vulnerable to financial fluctuations and uncertainty, which can be a major contributor to stress and mental health challenges for farming families. The Stigma-Free Society spoke with Gerry Friesen, also known as the “Recovering Farmer”, about managing the financial stress involved in farming. Gerry is a stress expert and public speaker who gives workshops and presentations related to stress management in the farming community.

Can you share your experience in the farming community and in helping people manage the financial stress involved in farming?

Since 2000 I have been involved in farm debt mediation. Over that time, I’ve helped over 500 farm families dealing with financial stress. Although many of these mediations involved creditors, most also involved conversations around the kitchen table. Through those conversations, farmers invariably spoke about the overwhelming stress they were experiencing.

During that time, I was also farming and experiencing high stress. As a result of the various stressors involved in farming, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

What are some of the financial challenges involved in farming, and how can this impact farmer’s mental health? Has this changed over the years?

Farmers are in a unique situation of having to invest significant financial resources without knowing what the returns will be. Factors like weather events, trade actions, government policies, consumer demands, disease issues and others impact the bottom line. Added to this are ever increasing decisions that farmers have to make, and each decision influences the next. We are only one decision away from a completely different outcome, and the stakes are high.

As farming has changed over the years, research has shown that incidents of depression and anxiety have increased. A survey done in 2016 by the University of Guelph revealed that out of 1100 farmers surveyed, 45% of respondents had high stress, and 58% met the criteria for an anxiety disorder.

In your experience, how does stress impact farm business management?

Despite the stress, the business must move forward. There will continue to be risks and opportunities. But when we are unable to handle the stress, we run the risk of the following:

  1. Capitulation — just selling at whatever price is available today because you just can’t stand worrying about it anymore.
  2. Denial — refusing to accept that some unpalatable prices or government policies will just have to be swallowed.
  3. Obsession — not being able to stop thinking about the crops in the field or wet in the bin — what they could have been worth and what they might end up being sold for.
  4. Paralysis — being unable to make any choices because every decision seems too fraught with danger.
  5. Desperation — looking for a magic bullet, secret weapon or miracle to resolve the problem.
  6. Paranoia — looking for evil forces or conspiracies to explain unfortunate situations.

Farm Management Canada did a study called Healthy Minds-Healthy Farms that explores the relationship between mental health and farm business management. They define stress as “the personal, emotional response to external factors, or stressors.” Typically, when we make choices, we think about the pros and cons and reflect on past experiences. But stress has the ability to cloud a logical approach. When stress overwhelms us, we run the risk of making less rational decisions. In times of stress, we are more likely to overlook negative information that may clarify our decisions and would rather focus on a positive outcome from the past. Research has shown that rational, emotionally stable and conscientious farmers are more likely to have a profitable business.

What sort of tools can you share with farmers for managing financial stress and uncertainty, and for coping with the mental health challenges this can lead to or exacerbate?

It’s always advisable to remain aware of what your financial situation is. I know from experience that checking your bank balance can be difficult when things are tight. But I’ve also learned that it’s easier to deal with a known rather than the unknown. When we are unaware, we have a tendency to worry, which is simply our mind dealing with something we don’t want to have happen.

And as we do with equipment breakdowns or disease issues, it can be helpful to reach out for help. A farm business management specialist can help you compile your financial information, talk through options, and can critique business plans. It’s always helpful to verbalize plans with a neutral third party.

Are there specific resources you can recommend for farmers who want to learn more about managing financial stress and uncertainty?

Over the years, there has been a substantial increase in resources for farmers seeking to deal with financial stress and uncertainty. Lenders such as Farm Credit Canada provide resources to further educate farmers. Of note is a booklet called Rooted in Strength which provides anecdotal stories from farmers experiencing stress. Farm Management Canada has resources for farmers to use and regular webinars for those interested in enhancing their farm business management. Provincial Agriculture departments often have resources to help with financial management. The key is to seek out the information that can help you in your specific situation.

Do you have any tips for young farmers just getting started who might not fully understand the financial pressures involved in farming?

  1. Be aware of an ever-changing environment.
  2. Write a business plan to be cognizant of cost of production, margins, marketing plans, etc. Among farmers who use written business plans, 88% claim that it’s improved their mental health.
  3. Make sure your goals are achievable.
  4. Avail yourself to all the advice from experts. But also ensure that the advice you get can work for your farm.
  5. Always ensure communication lines are open, whether that is with business partners, creditors, or others.
  6. Be honest with yourself and others.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  8. At the end of the day, don’t complicate or compound the challenges you may have. Keep it simple.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing overwhelming stress and anxiety, you can also seek mental health support resources here.

On Peer Support Work and its Effectiveness in Rural Communities

Rural communities are a unique context for mental healthcare. In rural and agricultural communities across North America, there is a mental health crisis due to the lack of resources that exist, and stigma discourages people from getting help. Rural communities experience higher rates of suicide, addiction, and substance use. Rural residents are more likely to live in poverty, report poor health, lack health insurance, have a chronic health condition, and/or be unemployed. It is much more difficult for rural residents to access mental health services compared to those living in urban areas, as it often requires travelling long distances and there are far fewer psychologists and psychiatrists. Where services do exist, they are frequently stretched thin, with long wait lists and high turnover rates (meaning the therapists change often). Moreover, individuals in rural communities tend to value self-reliance, which can discourage seeking help. The unique circumstances of mental health in rural contexts requires mental health services and solutions that are uniquely suited to those circumstances.

What is peer support?

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), “peer support is a supportive relationship between people who have lived experience in common”. In other words, peer support for mental health involves people who have experienced mental health challenges supporting someone currently experiencing mental health challenges. Peer support can take place in groups or one-on-one. It can be used on its own, or alongside more traditional counselling and/or psychiatric services. Peer support itself exists on a spectrum, ranging from more formalised peer support services that take place in a structured setting, all the way to community members offering each other support and talking about each other’s shared experiences in a much more casual format.

Does it work?

Both academic research and the reports of those that have experienced peer support indicate that peer support is highly effective. As well as benefiting the individuals who turn to peer support for help, peer support programs can also benefit their communities on the whole and reduce the load on the conventional mental health system. According to the MHCC’s 2016 report on peer support programs, studies have suggested that those using peer support programs “had a decrease in use of hospital services and experienced improvements in their psychiatric symptoms, social networks, quality of life, self esteem, and social functioning”. These promising reports have led the MHCC to advocate in favor of peer support programs as part of improving Canada’s mental healthcare systems.

Why is peer support suited to rural contexts?

Given the unique problems related to mental health faced by rural communities, peer support is perfect for improving mental health outcomes in rural areas. Peer support reduces feelings of isolation and strengthens communities by bringing those with similar experiences together. For those worried about the stigma that can be associated with seeking traditional mental healthcare like counselling or psychiatry, peer support can be a less intimidating option. And, while everyone in rural communities should have access to the mental health programs they need, while access to mental healthcare remains limited in rural areas, peer support can help to fill the gaps and take some pressure off other parts of the mental health system.

Peer support is a highly effective form of mental health support that is uniquely suited to addressing the mental health needs of rural communities. Here at Stigma-Free Society, we offer peer support worker training for rural and agricultural communities in partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH.

Join us and see how peer support can improve mental health outcomes in our communities.

Interview with a Row Crop Farm Family

The Stigma-Free Society recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth and Kathryn Mentzer, a row crop farm family based in central Illinois. Their philosophy to farming is based on improving the land they farm on and making a positive impact in their community.

What are some specific challenges that people face in the rural community that impact their mental wellness, particularly in regards to young farmers? Is this something that you and your family have struggled with as well?

Some specific challenges that people face in the rural community are, first of all, the stigma surrounding mental health. Somewhere along the way, farmers became seen as tough as nails, and when they didn’t feel tough they didn’t feel comfortable coming out and saying it. Also, farmers that live in the same community are often in competition with one another. Therefore, they often don’t want to share their struggles for fear it would affect them and their business.

Also, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for young farmer’s mental health. Farming is a high pressure job in many aspects – running large, potentially dangerous equipment, having to grow a business in volatile markets, making large decisions that will affect them the rest of their lives.

Kenneth has definitely felt all of these pressures and it has affected his mental health. He used to experience anxiety and the physical symptoms of it such as palpitations and chest pain. The pressure of taking over the family business takes a significant toll, and often these farmers are starting families at the same time, which contributes to the stress.

When it comes to seeking help for mental health struggles or difficulties coping, what kind of stigma or assumptions exist in the farming community and why might some people feel wary of reaching out for help?

I think there is definitely an expectation for farmers to be tough and not struggle with their feelings. They are expected not to let anything bother them. However, statistics show that many things do bother farmers and with the changing industry, the challenges are getting even harder. I don’t think resources are advertised enough and often the only way people may know to seek help is through the local doctor. Small towns are notorious for spreading gossip like wildfire, and that may deter some from seeking help because they may fear that confidentiality won’t be respected.

What strengths exist within the farming community that are conducive to good mental health?

The strengths that exist include a community that is very like-minded. If a person speaks out about their mental health, others might reach out to them, as they may be having similar feelings. It often takes great courage to take that first step and then you find out you’re not alone. And always, if someone needs help at home or on the farm, rural communities are always good about taking time out of their day to pitch in.

What are some simple steps or suggestions you have for young farmers in terms of reaching out for help and prioritizing mental health?

  1. Farming is often a very demanding job. Taking time daily, weekly, or monthly to consciously do something you enjoy can do wonders for stress. This can include working out, hunting, going out with friends, reading, woodworking, cooking/grilling, etc. Avoid drinking alcohol in excess. The key is to use that time to not think about the stresses of farming and really let yourself wind down.
  2. Avoid spending too much time reading doom and gloom articles on the news and internet. It is definitely good to be informed, but use trusted news sources to get your information and then give yourself time to process that information.
  3. Be very aware of who you follow and how much time you spend on social media. If you are following farming accounts that make you feel jealous, insecure, or cause feelings of anxiety about the success of your own farm, unfollow these people. Instead, choose to follow accounts that build up all farmers and are a source of positivity and togetherness (I really feel strongly about this one!)
  4. Don’t be afraid to get help. If you don’t feel comfortable seeking help in your own community, use the internet. These days there are amazing websites and digital resources that offer counseling and other tools. You can also virtually see a doctor in another town via Zoom or a phone call.

What do you wish you knew about mental wellness and support when you were first starting out as a young farmer?

I wish we had known the pressure that was involved in taking over a family business. I think we knew we wanted to do it, but once it happened it was scary and there always seemed to be bad news. I wish there were better preventative resources out there for young farmers that could be accessed before their mental health took a hit. I also wish there were more sources putting out simple steps and educational strategies like the ones I listed above. For some it seems like second nature to get some fresh air for their mental health, but for others it’s not so easy. Women tend to be better at accessing mental health resources and reading about self-care, but men often don’t have the same exposure. So more resources targeted towards men and their mental health is also important.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, visit our Health and Community Resources page for more information and support.

E-Mental Health: Digital Alternatives to Mental Health Support in Rural Communities

Seeking support is a vital first step in managing mental health challenges, but what if support is hard to come by? According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, access to mental health services is particularly limited in rural and remote communities. Given the long and demanding days required for many in the farming community, travelling long distances to access therapy or other mental health supports may seem daunting and unrealistic. Even if mental health services are available, there can be long waitlists and those with severe distress may be left without support when they need it most. In addition, everyone has unique preferences when it comes to finding the best support, approach and provider for them. Having more than one or two options can make a difference in increasing a sense of agency and finding the most effective therapy or treatment.

Thankfully, innovations in technology and telehealth options can reduce these barriers to accessing care and support in rural communities. E-mental health has been defined by researchers as “mental health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies,” and can include interventions like therapy using mobile devices or video conferencing platforms, social media, virtual reality and even gaming. Of course, virtual supports can never fully take the place of in-person interactions, but they are certainly a place to start while waiting for more traditional face-to-face forms of care. Some people may even prefer e-mental health options as they reduce time spent commuting and can be accessed from the comfort of one’s own home.

Below are just a few of the many different types of e-mental health support that you and your loved ones can access remotely:

Breathing Room: This evidence-based digital program and app offers practical strategies to manage stress, depression and anxiety, and is designed for students and young people. The interactive platform uses a combination of music, videos, comedy clips, information from mental health experts, visualization exercises and personal stories from other young people.

Mind Shift: This app uses scientifically proven strategies based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help people manage and take charge of their anxiety, and is particularly useful for tackling worry, panic, perfectionism, social anxiety and phobias. The community forum is a new feature that allows people to access peer-to-peer support.

Strongest Families Institute: This non-profit organization provides evidence-based educational mental health programs and support for families, including telephone coaching and support. They offer tailored programs based on a range of topics including parents empowering kids, chasing worries away, defeating anxiety, and addressing adult anxiety and depression.

Electronic Problem-Solving Treatment: This technology was developed for NASA to help astronauts cope with depression in space! Now available for those of us kicking around earth, this personalized and interactive intervention

features a virtual therapist to help people address daily problems, take action and regain a sense of control.

Walk Along: This mental health resource and website is designed for young Canadians to explore their mental health amongst their peers, and offers a mental health chart for tracking mood, sleep and exercise, a virtual locker for storing and sharing resources, art and videos, as well as self-help exercises, lived-experience stories and more.

These e-mental health interventions are just a few of the many digital options you and your family can access to improve your mental health, even if you’re in a remote or rural community with minimal access to mental health services. While digital interventions don’t take the place of face-to-face treatment and counselling, they can complement these services and be a great place to start for improving your mental wellbeing and regaining control over your life and your health.

It’s Ok to not be Ok – Navigating the Terrain of Adversity

The landscape of rural based living has always fostered a resilient, multi-talented and hard-working mind frame in those who choose, or were born into ranching, homesteading, or farming. But at what point does our emotional strength and resilience crater to the level of adversity or pressure one individual, family, or operation can handle.

Many of us have been doing our best to stay productive, be successful, keep our passion-built ventures on the ground, and put food on the table, let alone trying to maintain all of this and our emotional well-being/self-care through the trying times of an off-centre world, natural disasters, pandemic, and economic downturn.

With stress overload, financial strain, and relationship crises on the rise, it is no wonder that we are seeing more depression, anger, exhaustion, and anxiety in ourselves and those in our communities.

Rural people naturally adopt strength in mind, body, and soul. It takes an immense amount of energy to maintain resilience and those who seem the strongest are often most in need of support, they just don’t always know what that means or how to ask for it.

Have you ever been in that moment when someone asks, “How are you doing?” You can’t in honesty say great, fantastic, wonderful thank you! However, you don’t feel safe saying sad, stressed, terrified, or angry. Your response ends up somewhere in between, like, “Oh you know, …. we are getting through” or “I’m doing alright.” When in reality, one day from the next may feel like riding a roller coaster of unpredictability and misfortune. If you are honest with yourself and scared to express what you are truly experiencing, you most likely are in a survival state not a thrive state.

 

What does it mean to be in a survival zone versus thrive state?

 

There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means continuing to live or exist, while thriving can be defined as to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish. Rural individuals have often found routine and comfort in the status quo of survival mode. We wake up before the rest of the world and do, and do, and do some more, and by the end of the day there is nothing left for our own self-care, needs, or desires outside of the work that, yes, we love but can also hate.

We all would like to live in a place of peace, freedom, and ease. No one I know wants to be simply existing, but many of us are in survival mode most of the time. For myself with the current state of our world and the impact felt from the suffering and discomfort all around me, it has felt like one big hit after another.

Myself, my family, clients, and many people I know have had to make what feels like endless adjustments and deep dive into the hard work of creating thriving opportunities for themselves in a landscape that is filled with adversity. Some days feel immensely successful, and some days feel incredibly hard. Therefore, having the skill set to be able to bring yourself out of a state of survival is key to living a more centered life.

What keeps us stuck in a survival state? Fear of the unknown, navigating the uncertainty of life’s circumstances, trauma, or developed habits to name a few, but luckily, simply envisioning a life beyond surviving puts you one step closer to a Thrive Mindset.

 

How do you know if you are in a survival zone or thrive zone?

 

Even though things may seem bleak or the worst it’s ever felt, there are things that you can do to make a shift to feeling better, more grounded, or releasing some of the stress you are carrying. The first thing is to release any shame and affirm to yourself that there is nothing wrong with being NOT OK.

Asking for help may feel normal in the realm of physical labor and getting the workload spread further, but seeking support emotionally/mentally could seem completely like a foreign concept to you. Surround yourself with those who inspire you, teach you, calm you, or who are professionals in the realm of emotional wellness. It resources and motivates you to keep moving towards what you want and need for your unique sense of balance.

Offering compassion towards oneself and others is crucial in the Thrive Game. Vulnerability is hard but everyone is going through something and that doesn’t make us weak or a failure. Sometimes we just need to hear that things are going to turn out alright, or that we are doing the best we can in our circumstances.

Resourcing yourself is of immense importance to combat mental health challenges. Even when you want to seek out support and sometimes barriers arise living remotely or within a rural based community. Accessibility, Availability, Affordability, and Acceptability are four key challenges someone must overcome to engage in community based mental health support/programming during a mental health crisis. Sometimes it can feel too vulnerable seeking support in a community that knows us well. We must do the best we can to take care of ourselves and seek outside resources when we can.

 

Some Things you can do to Resource Yourself

 

Understand who you are: People who are attuned to their own strengths and weaknesses are more able to clearly define what they enjoy doing every day and what’s important for them to be doing. Spending time learning about yourself strengthens your ability to recognize your own likes, wants and needs. Make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, goals and needs to better reflect on who you are and where you would like to see yourself down the road.

Choose to incorporate daily activities that use your skills, strengths, and passions: Adjust so that the maximum time possible is spent on the activities that benefit your body, mind, or spiritual well-being – even when all you can do is bite-size actions.

Balance your life as much as it is realistic to do so: Self Care – to thrive physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, try to be intentional with eating, sleeping, participating in movement outside of work; invite meaning, develop a routine, set limits (boundaries), rest and make time for play. All these things are important for emotional well-being. Listen to your body for what you may need or start by choosing one to focus on.

Remember the hard times: Remind yourself of the things that you have gotten through and challenges you have faced before. You got through it because of certain people who supported you and/or specific actions you implemented. You will come through this time of adversity too!

Sometimes choosing to thrive feels more difficult than simply surviving. Thriving is also not a permanent state. You can expect to move in and out of survival mode and a thrive state frequently. The key is to notice when you are in a survival zone and have the awareness to move yourself from reactivity into a responsive state when you feel you need to.

Developing the resilience to turn crisis into opportunity will ultimately serve you in every area of life. Remember to treat yourself with the compassion, support, and encouragement you would offer to others. Take one small step at a time, build yourself up, celebrate your blessings, and never doubt for a second that you are worth it.

Meagan Saum Bio –

My name is Meagan Saum and I am a momma of 3 kiddos, owner of a 320-acre wellness/working ranch, educator at heart, & an entrepreneur of over 17 years who loves to travel, spend time with my menagerie of animals, or on the back of my horse checking our cow/calf herd, create quality memories with my family/friends as well as relax with a tea & good book!

My passion as a Life & Business Coach is in supporting individuals that have fallen into patterns that no longer serve them, who feel overwhelmed, stuck, exhausted, lost, unclear, under-resourced, or unsatisfied in their lives and/or businesses.

What fills my soul is empowering my clients to step into their power and claim a newfound sense of awareness, clarity, courage, & freedom. I am thrilled to be a feature contributor for the Rural Mental Wellness Blog.

I’m a no bull, kick ya in the keister kind of gal and love to give all sorts of advice (I promise I’m a good listener too) about how to flip the switch on your mindset, bridging the gap between logic & inner wisdom, helping you move forward with effective actions to reach new & exciting goals.

Areas that I specialize in are emotional resilience, limiting beliefs, self perception, healthy boundaries, positive leadership, power dynamics, mindfulness centered somatic trauma resolution, equine facilitated wellness, & authentic business building from idea stage all the way through scaling.

My details are listed below and I would love to connect!

Meagan Saum –Heart Centered Life & Business Coach

 

 

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