Combating Isolation in Rural Communities: Tough Realities and Tools for Resilience

Isolation is a formidable challenge, but it can be overcome. Unlike moments of solitude, which may be both peaceful and refreshing, prolonged social isolation is a risk factor for both physical and mental health. While loneliness is something of a universal human problem, it poses particular obstacles within rural communities because access to support services may be more limited here than in urban areas. Furthermore, rural residents tend to be less likely to reach out for help than city-dwellers. However, you do not need to stick it out on your own. Facing these tough realities with gritty determination and forging new partnerships based on local connections can provide powerful tools for resilience. 

Cultivating Awareness

The more we acknowledge the problem of social isolation, the better equipped we become to find effective solutions. Recent publications from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2020) indicate a growing awareness of the unique challenges faced in rural and remote communities. These challenges may include the need to travel greater distances to find professional services, as well as limited internet bandwidth, which can make it more difficult to take advantage of the growing number of virtual support systems.

Addressing these issues requires collaboration across a range of different sectors, from transportation, to technology, to infrastructure. Such changes involve complex and time-consuming processes. In the meantime, it’s important not to ignore the problem or hope that it will resolve itself. According to the results from a 2018 study conducted by the National Survey of Farmer Mental Health, 35% of Canadian producers met the criteria for depression classification and 58% met the criteria for anxiety classification. Even so, 40% of respondents indicated that they would hesitate to seek professional help due to concerns about how they would be perceived by others. As increasing numbers of people speak out about the very real challenges posed by isolation, the underlying stigma surrounding mental health issues can be slowly yet steadily vanquished. 

Challenging Attitudes

To overcome stigma, we must create an environment where people recognize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Doing so can be especially difficult within smaller communities where it may be more difficult to maintain privacy and where there may be an expectation of self-sufficiency. Edward Staples, President of the BC Rural Health network, observes that rural communities not only face “access issues” to mental health care but also have to contend with a common mentality along the lines of “I don’t need anyone’s help.” While hard work and independence can be powerful values, this myth of self-reliance seems likely to do more harm than good. Believing that you have to go it alone can take a tremendous toll. Moreover, such an attitude ignores that human beings, like all living creatures, exist as part of a larger ecosystem. Recognizing this connectivity and reaching out as needed should be seen for what it is: a courageous act of bridge-building.

Building Bridges

Fighting isolation within rural and remote communities requires innovative solutions, and recent success stories indicate that flexible, informal, and place-based approaches tend to work well. Rather than fixate on the challenge, it may be more productive to maintain a positive focus on small opportunities for connection. As suggested by a recent policy brief from the Rural Health Research Centre at the University of Minnesota (2018), volunteer activities like joining a choir or other acts of community service can provide opportunities for bonding based on shared interests, without making the issue of loneliness front and centre. One initiative that has gained global traction since its inception in Australia is the concept of Men’s Sheds. These workshops counter the problem of male loneliness by providing a context for hands-on work with individual or community projects. Another approach involves forming intergenerational connections that connect youth and older adults in relationships of mutual support, such as the AGE to age initiatives that have seen much success throughout northeastern Minnesota. These examples suggest that the key is to think outside the box, to be creative and proactive in seeking opportunities for engagement.

As a growing number of voices join this conversation, we can find even more effective interventions. The social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased challenges, yet it has also helped to shine a spotlight on this problem. In this moment of imagining a new post-pandemic reality, the time is ripe for action.  

Further Resources

Check out the following initiatives that seek to promote mental health awareness and build community among rural populations in Canada:

LandLogic: Connecting Health and Identity 

LandLogicTM was born in the hallway of my parents’ home as I studied the aerial photo of the sturdy red barn, weathered windbreak, and glistening pond that make up my family’s generational farm.  Seeing this picture reminded me of the peaceful, wide-open spaces, and family closeness that defined my picturesque childhood, as well as my father’s own bout with deep despair as he attempted to manage the harsh realities of sustaining a small farm-ranch operation amid the 1980s farm crisis. 

What if, I thought, agricultural producers could connect with tools to improve their mental health on their own terms instead of suffering like my dad?

The vision behind LandLogicTM is to involve agricultural producers in the design and implementation of an online, interactive platform that allows farmers and ranchers to discreetly access evidence-based therapeutic tools to improve their mental and emotional wellbeing.  This capacity-building model would incorporate the various sectors within the agricultural industry (beef cattle, oilseed and grain, dairy, poultry, fruits and nuts, etc.) with common mental health topics.   

Rather than expecting farmers and ranchers to access behavioral health education through traditional channels where stigma runs high, this resource model would reach producers through their core identity: connection to the land.   

As a descendant of five generations of farmers, I experienced what Dr. Michael Rosmann calls The Agrarian Imperative: an innate connection to land that drives agricultural producers’ industriousness, resilience, and determination to protect it at all costs.  American farmers and ranchers self-reported financial stress, state of the farm economy, farm or business problems, and fear of losing the farm as the top four stressors in their lives.  Whether it be for the satisfaction of producing quality food, overseeing the lifecycle of crops, carefully tending to livestock, or the love of the outdoors, farmers and ranchers continue to endure this difficult life because they love what they do. 

Rural agricultural producers are at a growing risk of debilitating behavioral illness (anxiety, depression, SUD, etc.), and ultimately suicide when compared to their urban counterparts. Mental health deserts in our most rural or impoverished counties perpetuate these disturbing disparities and geographic isolation, cost of services, and gaps in insurance coverage further exacerbate the problem

In addition to structural barriers, there are significant cultural obstacles for farmers and ranchers accessing the behavioral health system through its traditional channels.  Stigmas are high, mental health literacy levels are often low, and existing care approaches do not adequately consider the nuances of agricultural life and culture.  Moreover, providers rarely possess the lived experiences or training to understand the specific challenges that plague agricultural producers. 

That aerial photo of our family farm reminds me that farmers and ranchers have a unique vantage point.  The land by which they experience joy and struggle also offers the ability to experience life through the five senses.  Research shows we retain 10% of our information through reading, 20% through seeing, 30% through hearing, 50% through seeing and hearing, and 80% by doing.   

Clinicians could better serve their clients by integrating the daily aspects of farming and ranching into behavioral health education.  This approach – which may include a research-based certification process for clinicians – could literally save lives. 

LandLogicTM would allow mental health professionals to harness the innovation, industriousness, and creativity of agricultural producers as they solve their own problems, ensuring the health and vitality of future generations.   

It is time to rethink how behavioral health connects with farmers and ranchers.


For more information, please email or send an Instagram message @kaila.s.anderson

Author: Kaila S. Anderson, LMSW 

M.A.D. by Cheyenne Glade Wilson

When you see the word “mad” what does it mean to you? I used to think of “mad” as being upset about something, but the meaning of “mad” changed for me seven years ago when I began my online health/wellness and coaching business. Even though I’m a fifth-generation rancher who literally lives in the middle of nowhere, I never let my location stop me from growing several businesses. One of the upsides of the internet and social media is that it can connect you to so many people all over the world if you utilize it.

I was suddenly surrounded by all sorts of positive thinking entrepreneurs who introduced new ways of thinking to me. One gal in particular struck me to the core when she told me about achieving goals. She said that she had to get “mad” in order to do anything well. She said “mad” in such a way that I asked her what she meant. She told me that “mad” meant “make a decision”. I was elated as I felt like I had just found Eldorado!

What she said made so much sense to me back then and it still does today. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity going on around us or even the chaos of the world. We can feel insignificant or even out of control if we sit back and allow ourselves to go down that road. One way that I’ve found to grow beyond situations like that is to make a decision not to go there. Instead, make goals for yourself that scare the heck out of you. Be bold. Dream big. Never give up. You can achieve whatever you set your mind to. See it. Believe it. Achieve it.

We all only get one chance at this thing called life. It’s too important just to sit back allowing others to plan our lives for us. By making a decision about what you want you are signalling to yourself that you will not sit idly by and that you will not give up. There is no quitting…this is your life after all!

So, what is it that you want to do? What are you constantly thinking or dreaming about? What makes you happy? What sets your soul on fire? If you know what it is…awesome! If you don’t…figure it out! When you do, MAKE A DECISION about what you want to do and go do it. Yes, it’s that simple. We can make all the excuses we want in life, but they aren’t going to get you where you want to go. Shut out the noise. Cut down distractions. Don’t listen to naysayers. Listen to your inner voice. It’s telling you what you need to do. Perhaps the first step is to get “mad” about following your heart’s desire.

Just remember at the end of the road only you will look back on your life. Only you will see what you’ve accomplished and only you will feel regret if you don’t fulfill your dreams and goals. Make sure that you will be happy about what you will see. You are the captain of your own ship. Sail in the direction that suits you and do it with a smile on your face!

Cheyenne Glade Wilson is a fifth-generation rancher and a tribal member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. She and her husband and son own and operate the Lazy Six Nine Ranch. They have a cow/calf operation and raise half-draft and draft cross horses specializing in Percheron/Quarter Horse and Gypsy Vanner/Quarter Horse crosses. Cheyenne is also a health/wellness coach and leader, photographer, writer, and blogger. You can find her at and on Instagram/Facebook @thenativecowgirl.


Young Agrarians Supports Young and New Farmers in Canada: an Interview with Young Agrarians

What is Young Agrarians? 

Young Agrarians (YA) is the largest educational resource network for new and young ecological farmers in Canada. YA offers farmer-to-farmer programming to grow the next generation of food growers. YA programs work to create access to education, training, land, business mentorship, and resources. The long-term goal of YA is to increase the number of viable and ecological farmers in Canada.”

Why was Young Agrarians created?

“Of the 1.7% of the Canadian population that farm, just 9% are 35 and younger, making up less than 25,000 farm operators (Stats Canada 2016). Cost of land and production are the biggest barriers to entering the sector. Since YA began in January 2012, the network of participating farmers and collaborating organizations has grown at the grassroots level coast-to-coast through farmers organizing and building community, representing over 13,000 participants at 300+ educational events. In 2020 we worked with approximately 1400 farmers at all different stages of their journey info farming and starting farms. Currently, YA programs are focused on Western Canada from B.C. to Manitoba: YA’s Grow-a-Farmer strategy in B.C. engages new, young and potential farmers through resources and opportunities online, brings them together to network and learn together on and off farms year-round, and when ready to start farms, supports them to access land and receive business supports and mentorship from a seasoned farmer. In the Prairies, the program has grown online and through events, as well as an on-farm Apprenticeship Program in Regenerative Agriculture.”

What connection have you noticed between agriculture and mental health? 

“Farmers work really hard. Young Agrarians hears about these challenges from farmers all the time – there is a huge burden on farmers to be superheroes! We know how much loving care farmers put into their crops and animals, but it can be hard to find the time to care for themselves too. Many farmers live in rural areas, which can feel isolating and comes with its own suite of challenges. Young Agrarians appreciates the wonderful resources provided by Rural Mental Wellness, and disseminates them to support farmers to look after their mental health.”

What programs and services do you offer to your members?

“YA operates both online and offline programming to build the food and farm community: 

Business Bootcamp – an online, community-based program to give new and prospective farmers the space and skills to write a stellar business plan to launch the farm of their dreams.

B.C. Land Matching Program – provides land matching and business support services to new farmers looking for land to farm, and landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. Offers support developing leases and other land agreements.

B.C. Business Mentorship Network that pairs new farms in start-up with experienced mentors. 

Prairies Apprenticeship Program – advanced, hands-on apprenticeships in regenerative agriculture in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Event series – regular year-round events ranging from farm tours, webinars, potlucks, and small-scale farming workshops to two-day mixers and more.

Online Resources:

Farmer blog – our website features job and apprenticeship postings, farmer profiles, prospective land to farm, funding opportunities, and more.
U-MAP – a self-serve, crowd-sourced map that aggregates farm resources across Canada.
Online tools – business resources and downloadable tools, such as land lease and license templates and a BC Land Access Guide.

Social media channels

– buzzing networks that share opportunities, experiences, and connect our network across the country. Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Hashtag #youngagrarians and grow the network with us!” 

“The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Bullitt Foundation, Cowichan Valley Regional District, and Patagonia.

Gratitude to all of our amazing funders, sponsors, and donors for making the work we do possible.

All photos by Sara Dent”

Visit the Young Agrarians Website:

Supporting Rural Women in Business: An Interview with the Founders of The Rural Collective

What is the Rural Collective? 

Started by Jan and Erin Johnson, “ The Rural Collective is a member-based community where enterprising rural Canadian women can come together for mutual support, ideas and to network with potential collaborative business partners, all with the aim to build and grow sustainable, successful businesses. We have women who are makers, farmers, producers, ranchers, specialty product and service businesses in our community… and a whole lot more. Rural women are creative and innovative in the ways they choose to grow their entrepreneurial ideas and we love seeing all the ways they show up in the marketplace.”   

“Alone, women have power… collectively, they have impact.”

How and why did you create the Rural Collective? 

“We have been working with enterprising women in a lot of ways over the years – from developing and delivering workshops and courses, to writing books and working one-on-one to build websites and develop branding. Helping enterprising rural women is a niche that slowly developed for us over time and we absolutely love helping women get grounded in and grow successful businesses. Launching The Rural Collective in the middle of a pandemic is not something we could have predicted, but it has proved to be the best timing as it has brought women together from across Canada to connect and be in community with each other in a time when disconnection and separation have dominated our lives.” 

What are some next steps for the Rural Collective? 

“The Rural Collective Membership currently includes a directory listing, peer learning sessions, an online group and member profiles on our social media. We’ll soon be launching The Rural Collective Mastermind – a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting that will sharpen a woman’s business and personal skills – and The Rural Collective Marketplace – an online multi-vendor platform where rural women can set up storefronts to sell their products. Everything we do is geared to help women grow and succeed in their businesses with the tools, mindset and resources to help them do that.”

What is the importance of mental wellness in your lives? 

Mental wellness is something we talk about and think about often. We have been juggling a lot of business projects in the past year and often we feel stretched and sometimes overwhelmed. Stepping away from our business roles to do other enjoyable things, talking with our team about how we are all doing with the large number of tasks and responsibilities on our plates, and having open conversations and supporting our members are a few of the things we do. We also partner with other businesses and organizations to share and promote mental wellness for rural women and their families.”

To visit the The Rural Collective website, go to

Check out the Stigma-Free Society’s latest article on rural women entrepreneurs:  “Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Women Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities: Their Challenges and Successes

Starting a small business in a rural community can come with its fair share of challenges. A small business is defined as a firm that has fewer than 100 employees. These small businesses can come in many forms, serve the diverse needs of populations, carry different products and encompass many forms of work. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are the backbone of rural and agricultural communities. Small businesses dominate the industries that keep rural communities viable, such as forestry, fishing, hunting, etc. However, owning and operating a small business in a rural community can pose some unique challenges to entrepreneurs. 

Some of the key challenges that rural entrepreneurs face include:

  1. Low population density/remoteness
  2. Depressed access to markets, capital, and labor 
  3. Lack of necessary infrastructure 
  4. Geographic isolation from support networks 
  5. Infrastructure gaps, including reliable internet and telephone service 

Women entrepreneurs who own small businesses in rural and agricultural communities face even more unique challenges to keeping their business up and running. One of the main challenges female entrepreneurs face in these communities compared to the urban dwelling counterparts is higher poverty rates. This can create issues for securing capital needed to get a business up and running, and also for maintaining the business if times get hard. Once women in these communities have successfully started their small businesses, other challenges have been cited. According to the Rural Women Entrepreneurs Report, challenges with training programs, personal support systems, identifying financing, and finding qualified employees have been noted by women who run small businesses in rural communities.  

A very interesting area of growth and success for female entrepreneurs has been in the area of agriculture-related business endeavours. According to The Center for Women in Business’ report, over the past three decades, the share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled to comprise 14% of all U.S. farms. In this typically male dominated space, women are getting more involved and are becoming increasingly successful. However, being a woman in a male dominated field can pose challenges. Women might feel as though they have to do more in order to stay competitive with their male counterparts. Regardless of these challenges, the above statistic makes it evident that women are getting involved in the agricultural business in a big way. 

For female entrepreneurs in rural communities, the unique hurdles and successes they face can make them feel isolated and alone. Finding community in rural areas can be a challenge in and of itself, but for women who own a small business in these geographic regions, finding that community can be even more of a challenge. This is where Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs comes in. Women entrepreneurs in rural communities do not need to face their hurdles or experience their successes alone. With this peer support training, they can find a community of women who can understand and support them in profound ways. 

In this training, Rural Women Entrepreneurs will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and learn how to apply them effectively when supporting their peers facing similar challenges. They will also learn how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences to enhance interactions as a peer supporter and support group facilitator. Participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. 

Finally and most importantly, individuals will learn how to become great peer support facilitators! This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. Participants don’t need to have experienced/be experiencing mental health challenges to participate. All are welcome to join! 

The Peer Support Facilitator Training for Rural Women Entrepreneurs will be a 2-day virtual course taking place on July 21st and 28th 2021, from 9AM PST – 5PM PST (with breaks). 

Registration is by donation to the Stigma-Free Society. 

To register for this remarkable program, or a future training, please click HERE to visit our peer support landing page.


U.S. House of Representatives, Small Business Committee


A Glimpse into the Rural Peer Support Training Program

What is Peer Support?:

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Peer Support is “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. The peer support worker provides emotional and social support to others who share a common experience. But despite evidence of the benefits, for both individuals and families, peer support programs have yet to receive the focus, funding, and attention needed”. 

Simply put, peer support is a way for individuals with a similar background to connect with each other and ensure that they are taking care of themselves on their specific needs and experiences. Peer support workers are trained on how to work with individuals with lived experiences that are reflective of their own and support from a place of empathy and understanding. This program is designed to truly empower both the support worker and the individual seeking support, as they work together, sharing experiences and developing wellness-related skills. 

To become a peer support worker, individuals must go through a training process. There are many organizations that offer peer support training. One of the best is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that is currently offering online training for individuals and families. 

According to Robyn Priest, “Peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” This type of holistic, well-rounded support is imperative for everyone, as we all have unique experiences and struggles and want to connect with others who can understand what we might be going through. 

Why peer support in rural and agricultural communities?:

Peer support is led by trained people just like you who have lived experience with mental health challenges, but also get what it is like working in agriculture or living rurally. Since there aren’t that many mental health services in rural communities like psychologists or counsellors, peer support is a great option. Peer support can also be done over video chat, so you can keep it personal and private and makes support extremely accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robyn Priest notes, “I know having moved from the city to a farming community was a culture shock and being able to chat with others who had experienced that, or even just chatting with others who had dealt with dealing with crops, animals, the ever changing seasons, helped enormously. It was like – ahhh you get it.”

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. The unique challenges individuals face are best supported by those who have been through similar things and can empathize from a place of deep understanding. For rural communities, these might be experiences with loneliness, burnout, stress around crops, unique family challenges, addiction and so much more.

What are the benefits for Peer Support training participants?:

There are so many benefits to participating in this training experience. First, participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals and how they can apply them effectively when supporting peers in individual or group facilitations. These foundational skills can be useful in these facilitations, but also for supporting loved ones and other individuals in one’s life. 

Another benefit for participants is learning how to effectively communicate and share personal experiences in order to enhance interactions as a peer support worker and group facilitator. This unique way of communicating will aid trainees in their ability to connect and share reflectively and vulnerably with others, while maintaining professionalism. 

Thirdly, participants will gain an understanding of the importance of self-care and how to apply this practice in their lives. This skill of self-care can be carried throughout one’s life and can support the trainee’s mental wellbeing in all areas. It can also aid in their ability to take time for themself when supporting others, which can be an emotionally challenging task. 

Finally, and most importantly, to learn how to become a great peer support facilitator. This work is extremely rewarding and can lead to so many amazing opportunities for trainees. Individuals who participate in this training will be able to apply the skills they learn to do work that is nourishing and steeped with care and empathy. 

Please continue to check in with the Stigma-Free Society, as we add training sessions in the coming months!

Check out our peer support landing page HERE for more information. 

Farmer’s Perspective on Mental Health

We interviewed 6 farmers to tell us about their perception of mental health and the challenges faced by farming and agricultural communities. Their answers were truly eye-opening. Below are excerpts from our interviews with Brendan Byrne, Nathan Brown, Carey Portell, Kristen Kelderman, Louise Virostok, and Sandi Knight.

What does mental health mean to you?

Interviewees acknowledged that mental health is complex, intertwined with other aspects of our lives, and looks different for everyone. They emphasized the importance of self-awareness, consistent care and nurturing of one’s own needs.

Mental health to me means taking care of myself as in self care physically and mentally in order to take care of my family and be a good friend.” – Louise Virostok

Mental health is our emotional well-being; our state of mind. Like physical health, it is an important part of our overall well-being. The two are intertwined; the health of one often impacts the other. Both require on-going care, attention and nurturing as we age and deal with life experiences.” – Sandi Knight

What did you learn about mental health growing up? Did you ever talk about it?

For all of our interviewees, mental health was not something that was discussed when they were younger.

Absolutely nothing. You didn’t speak of it or it was a sign of weakness.” – Carey Portell

It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to understand that how we act, think and feel impacts our overall well being. That it can be as important as physical health. This opened up a whole new world to me.” – Kristen Kelderman

Why do you think mental health is an important issue in agriculture and rural areas? 

All of the interviewees expressed that there are unique mental health challenges that rural dwelling individuals face, such as isolation, as well as access to and affordability of resources. They also highlighted that many individuals do not talk about mental health and fail to prioritize self-care.

Most rural people and aggies have grown up just the way I did, having no idea that what they feel/think is normal and that it is beneficial and not weak to seek guidance.” – Carey Portell

In agriculture we are taught that we can fix anything and do anything and that you do not quit until that task is complete. We often use and abuse our bodies to accomplish those tasks, and self-care often is not something that any of us consider as part of our existence. There are always animals to tend, crops to be sown, or equipment to be fixed. Self-care is usually the last thing anyone thinks about in their daily lives on a farm. Often access to services are often harder to receive and the stigma that surrounds mental health only amplifies the issue.” – Nathan Brown

I believe that many people were coached that pride meant that you don’t ask for help, you don’t admit defeat, you just put your head down and get the work done no matter what. We can do better than this. We must do better for our people in agriculture. Creating safe and helpful spaces to discuss and support each other.” – Kristen Kelderman

Do you have personal experience with mental health challenges?

All of the individuals interviewed have either suffered from mental health challenges themselves or witnessed a loved one struggling from mental illness.

Aside from the usual stresses of planting and harvesting, I personally don’t have specific mental health challenges.  I go through the usual ups and downs of life but have been able to navigate those waters okay. But I understand the issues more than most as my wife has been diagnosed in the last few years with a mental illness and that process has brought me to a deeper level of compassion and understanding.” – Brendan Byrne

I struggle day to day with anxiety most recently after COVID came through and the stressful events that have been drawn out long term. Without the social aspect of my lifestyle, my ‘balance wheel’ is out of balance and causing more challenges.” – Louise Virostok

I am a survivor of childhood abuse. It’s not something that I openly talk about a lot, but it’s a trauma I’ve lived with my entire life. More recently, a few years ago a friend took her life to suicide. These two events have been dark times in my life that have caused a lot of shame and grief.” – Kristen Kelderman

Do you observe stigma in your community around mental health? What does that look like?

Most of the interviewees have observed stigma surrounding mental health in their communities, which manifests in a lack of acknowledgment of mental health issues. Mental illness is viewed as a weakness and is highly stigmatized, as they are taught that farmers should be stoic and strong.

I know in the agricultural community at times asking for help isn’t easy.  I remember when we first started talking about mental health I had a farmer ask me why we were wasting so much time on mental health?  My response was that I didn’t want others to have to learn about it the hard way when it affects someone that they love. I didn’t want them to have to lose someone close to them to start to understand that people are struggling. I’ve lost a friend to suicide and I don’t want others to feel that helpless or to have to go through that aftermath.” – Brendan Byrne

Stigma around mental health is everywhere in our rural communities if you know what you are looking for or sometimes not looking at. I have friends that won’t talk about the troubled life they have led, and that drugs and alcohol is what they turn to in order to ease their pain. I have successful friends that allow thoughts of failure to enter their minds and let their operations slip to the point they are about to lose everything because they are afraid to talk to someone about their feelings and receive the help they so desperately need. I have friends that have lost a loved one in a tragic event and because they are viewed as the leader of the family have been told that it is not okay to grieve, it’s not okay to feel pain, it’s not okay to show emotion because they must be strong for the family. Is there stigma? Yes. Can we break it down, yes by loving each other and recognizing we all hurt sometimes and need a helping hand.”– Nathan Brown

One exception to this was Sandi Knight, who explained that she is fortunate to be involved in a variety of groups and organizations where mental health is openly discussed.

For me, they are safe places to share stories and resources. Speakers have been brought in to meetings, agriculture events and conferences on the subject of mental health. This opens up conversations and creates an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their story.”     – Sandi Knight

The experiences our interviewees exemplify the need for a changing discourse surrounding mental health in agricultural communities. Additionally, these stories make it evident that there need to be more avenues for support made available to farmers.


The Importance of Mental Wellness Breaks

In agricultural communities, there is a major focus on productivity. While it is important to remain productive in order for your business to thrive, hyper-productivity can lead to burnout, physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion and can exacerbate mental health issues. 

Overworking yourself can do a lot more harm than good. If you begin experiencing burnout or exhaustion from being overworked, it can become essentially impossible to remain productive and get work done.   

So how do we combat these issues? It can seem like a daunting task when we have so much to do and we feel like we don’t have time to take breaks. However, taking a break could be the difference between succumbing to the effects of burnout and exhaustion and being able to remain productive in the work we need to do. Breaks don’t need to be long. Taking short mental wellness-focused breaks throughout the day can be enough to avoid or combat burnout. 

Here are some mental wellness breaks to try that can help improve your overall mental wellness and combat burnout: 

  • Try mindfulness and breathing exercises: You can do these anywhere, for as long as you need, and as many times as you need throughout the day. 
    • Mindfulness exercises can be extremely simple. Focus on your surroundings. Observe and take in what is around you. Taking this moment to refocus your mind can help when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed 
    • Breathing exercises can also be extremely simple. Conscious breathing is an easy way to ground yourself and take a moment to check in. 
  • Go for a walk: Getting out of your work environment can help to reset your mind so you’re able to be more productive. If we stay in the same place doing the same thing all day, the redundancy can become burnout inducing. Going for a walk, and especially getting out in nature, is a great way to take a wellness break.
  • Call a friend or family member: Sometimes all it takes is reaching out to someone to talk about your day, their day, or nothing at all really, to avoid burnout. Connecting with others is a great way to stabilize ourselves in times of stress. You can share with them how you’re feeling or simply chat! This might also give them a chance for a wellness break. 
  • Take time to enjoy your lunch/coffee breaks: This might seem a bit unnecessary to include. But so often when life gets busy, we forget to actually enjoy the things that fuel us. Really focus on what you’re eating. Ask yourself “what do I like about this meal?” “what flavours are in this?” “how does this meal make me feel?” Taking this time for reflection is actually a very quick and easy mindfulness activity!
  • Stretch!: If we are doing physically laborious work, our bodies can become overworked and tired. Take time throughout the day to stretch your muscles. This wellness break is not only great for your mental health, but your physical health as well. Our mental and physical health are deeply connected, so why not help both at once!

If we’re overworked and experiencing burnout, work can seem like it’s too much to take on. Taking mental wellness breaks can help you be more productive and can have great long-term effects on your overall mental health and wellbeing!  


Farm Supermoms

Coping with stress and mental health challenges

Farm supermoms. This name is fitting because the various roles and responsibilities these women take on require them to possess superhero-like qualities. Being a farm mom can be extremely taxing and often involves these women wearing many hats throughout the day. Being a mom in and of itself is a full-time job, irrespective of farming responsibilities. Farm moms often spend their days being the chef for the entire family, running around bringing their children to various sporting activities, as well as volunteering, grocery shopping, housekeeping and some working part-time jobs on top of everything. Not to mention helping out with farming tasks. We asked 5 farm supermoms to explain their diverse roles and how they cope with stress and mental health challenges. This is what they said…

Lizanne is a full-time mom, as well as a chef to about a dozen people; ensuring the shack is always filled with snacks, drinks, and baked goods, making coffee for the day, as well as feeding everyone a hot dinner. Lizanne also has taken on othe

r roles such as volunteering, grocery shopping, housekeeping, and working part-time.
Lizanne copes with the stress of everyday living by reaching out to her ‘gang of Supermoms’. She gives herself a couple of hours some mornings to go for a coffee with the other moms, where they have the opportunity to vent and destress. She explains that this is a great way to recharge her batteries and realize she is not alone in her struggles. Lizanne’s mother-in-

law and husband are also amazing supporters. She described how thankful she is for the help and support of her mother-in-law, but also admits that asking for help is a challenge for her. Her husband is a huge help around the house and with the kids during most of the year. However when farming season hits, she feels like she becomes a single mother. Although this is challenging, she copes by reminding herself that harvest season does not last forever and that it is important to just take life day by day.

Krista’s roles have varied throughout the years. There were times where she was at the barn non-stop and other times where she didn’t go to the barn for days or weeks. She and her husband have three older kids (13, 10 & 8) as well as two younger kids (3 & 1). Krista’s roles as a supermom not only include barn work, she also spends time driving the kids around, cooking, cleaning and changing dirty diapers. Since her last pregnancy, Krista stepped back from barn work and  directed her focus to her mom duties and homeschooling her three oldest kids.
Krista has experienced postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of her first, third and fourth child. The first time Krista experienced this, she had no idea what was happening to her and wasn’t aware of the fact that PPD is very common. She felt ashamed and ultimately suffered in silence. By the fourth child, Krista felt more equipped to deal with it.

Alyssa and her husband have two children (2 ½ & 13). She reports that she will “do anything that is needed or asked of me. I will hold a gate, sort cattle, make lunches, run for parts, keep the bookwork, or feed the animals”. Alyssa also enjoys gardening and plans to expand her garden this spring. She started a social media page @raisingkidsandcrops as a creative outlet for herself. She has realized the need to share her family’s farming story with people outside of agriculture.
Alyssa personally struggles with her mental health, it is a daily battle to keep her anxiety under control. Alyssa does several things to help her cope with the anxiety she experiences, such as exercise, daily anxiety medication and CBD supplements. Her advice to those looking for ways to cope with their mental health issues is to find something that works for you, because what works for one person may not work for another.

Tiffany and her husband have three children. Her third child, Natalie, was born with a genetic mutation, which resulted in a diagnosis of Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Tiffany is the primary caregiver of Natalie, which leaves little time for hobbies. Natalie requires multiple medications a day and needs constant supervision because her epilepsy is drug resistant and is not completely controlled. She has multiple types of seizures and she has at least one type of seizure everyday. Tiffany brings Natalie along for sheep chores daily and she picks up jobs that allows Natalie to tag along. Tiffany explains that most of what she does revolves around the needs of her daughter. However, she loves advocating for the agricultural industry and often does this in her spare time though her Instagram @prairiepretty or her blog
Tiffany has been reaching out for help for a while now. She expresses concerns with our government-run mental health system, as it takes a long time to process needs and requests. When she applied for respite, it took Community Services Living a year and a half to finish processing her application and begin the interview process. This is an issue Tiffany is passionate about. It is important to bring public awareness to this issue and ensure those in rural areas get the support they require.

Katie has two young boys, ages 6 and 8. She explains that being a mom is the most important role she has at the moment and notes that her and her husband are “raising the next generation and there is no job more important in the world.” Along with working hard, they want their children to know it’s ok to take a break, a vacation, or some down time in whatever capacity you can. She explained that their career and lifestyle doesn’t always make doing that easy, but it’s necessary. Along with being a mom, Katie also helps in nearly all aspects of the farm, from operating equipment to quality control and so much in between. She also manages their website, social media, and some record keeping.
Katie finds that one of her biggest challenges is the pressure she puts on herself to do it all and to ask for help when she needs it. She explains that moms are programmed to believe and accept that they should be able to do it all, but the reality is it can leave them feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed.

An important message to take away from these farm supermoms is that asking for help can be tough, but when you do, you’ll realize that there are so many people behind you that are more than happy to lend a hand. From being full-time moms, to taking care of their farms, these women have truly earned their super-status.