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Calls for 24-7 mental health crisis line for agriculture sector as stress levels soar with drought

NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet has been touring central and southern Alberta this week, to hear directly from farmers and ranchers about how they are being impacted by this summer’s drought. NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet has been touring central and southern Alberta this week, to hear directly from farmers and ranchers about how they are being impacted by this summer’s drought.
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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -

Alberta NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet capped off a four day tour of southern Alberta Thursday, by calling on the UCP government to implement a 24-7 Mental Health Crisis Line specifically for people working in the ag-sector.

“There’s a stigma around mental health generally,” said Sweet. “We must break it and we must address it.”

The NDP also renewed their proposal for the government to provide five insured mental health sessions for all Albertans.

Sweet has been touring central and southern Alberta this week, to hear directly from farmers and ranchers about how they are being impacted by this summer’s drought.

“It has hit all parts of our agricultural sector,” added Sweet.

Coaldale farmer Tory Campbell said he is lucky to be living his dream life as a farmer, but added it’s not always easy.

“I’ve sat next to a grain bin that has bugs in it, and I’ve cried,” said Campbell. He said people sometimes overestimate the resilience of farmers or ranchers.

“I’ve watched as a north wind carried away my canola crop, a west wind shattered my wheat, a south wind ravaged my flax crop.”

Grasshoppers in southern Alberta, August 12, 2021

Campbell said he has stayed awake at night, thinking about how he was going to make the business work, “I know that what I’ve seen and lost pales in comparison to the struggles that many others have faced.”

Campbell, also a Lethbridge County councillor, said rural municipalities and farm groups have been calling for a 24-7 mental health line for agriculture for a few years.

“As a farmer and a local councillor, I know implementing this is more important than ever,” he added.

DO MORE AGRICULTURE FOUNDATION

The Do More Agriculture Foundation is a national charity that addresses mental health in agriculture and is currently working to implement a 24/7 mental health crisis line called AgTalk.

Adelle Stewart is the executive director of the Do More Agriculture Foundation.

“Producers in Alberta and all across Canada experience higher rates of mental illness than almost any other industry,” she said.

Steward added the province lacks access to agriculture specific mental health support and research shows that farmers are more likely to get help for mental health from someone who understands the industry.

“Agriculture producers need us to come together and offer this program in efforts to fulfill the national recommendations, save lives, and improve the quality of lives for farmers before we lose one more.”

Sweet suggested the challenges of the drought warrant more, and quicker action by the provincial government.

Campbell said while the struggle is real now, the impact will be lasting, and could put a bigger strain on many producers.

“This is something we will be seeing for a number of years. We are going to see seed stocks depleted. We are going to need ample moisture to replenish the reserves that we’ve exhausted.”

The Rural Municipalities of Alberta passed a resolution in the spring of 2019 calling for a mental health crisis hotline.

Campbell said the government wasn’t willing to invest the funds at that time, but rural leaders consider it a very simple, straightforward request.

“We think that it’s a very doable ask, and we think its something that needs to be taken care of sooner, rather than later.” 

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