Oil Springs farmer helps promote mental health hotline

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Joe Dickenson knows what it is like to not be okay.

The Oil Springs farmer is one of many adding his voice to a new mental health campaign called the Farmer Wellness Initiative. A 24-hour hotline has been established with money from both the provincial and federal government. It gives people in the agriculture industry easy access to counseling quickly.

Dickenson, a member of the Beef Farmers of Ontario, was contacted to be part of the social media campaign to spread the word about it. While he didn’t know much about the new hotline, he was well aware of the mental health issues that plague farmers. In the last year, Dickenson knows two farmers who completed suicide.

And in the last few years Dickenson has dealt with burnout after taking on extra work to keep his beef operation viable.

“I took on a job off the farm and that was a full time job. So every day, I’d wake up at 4:30 in the morning, I do chores, and then I go work an eight hour a day job. And then I come home and do more work. And if something goes down, I have to deal with it,” Dickenson says.

The workload was so heavy, he told family not to call him on Saturday mornings so he could catch up on some of his sleep.

“On top of it, you’re not doing anything well.

“You got to a point where you’re just you look back, and how am I going to keep this up?”

That’s when he pulled the plug on the full time job.

While friends and family were supportive as they could be, Dickenson didn’t see professional help for his burnout.

“Most of it, I kept to myself. I’m not saying the supports weren’t there, but I didn’t know who to turn to to access them.”

That’s why he was eager to be a part of the campaign to promote the hotline and counseling services particularly considering some estimates say farmers are 20 to 30 per cent more likely to complete suicide than the average population.

And Dickenson is concerned it could get worse. Farmers have always had to deal with the stress of the unpredictability of weather and markets. But the recent sharp increase in land prices and the rising interests will soon be causing additional stress.

“Input  costs are quite high and they’re not going down. The price of land has shot up to almost unbelievable levels and that was all done in low interest. We’re starting to see interest come back to basically the long time term average, and it could potentially be ruinous.”

If you or someone you know needs counseling for mental health issues you can call 1-866-267-6255 or go on line to farmerwellnessinitiative.ca