For Kim Keller, it wasn’t enough to know mental health stresses put her rural neighbours and business colleagues at risk of mental illness, including depression and self-harm.

Lonely elder grower in field of crops dealing with the stresses of farming

So this past winter, the Saskatchewan grain farmer took a two-day mental health first aid course and learned what to do when someone needs support.

Keller’s chief take-away: “Mental health is health. We’d never say a farmer should deal with a broken leg on his or her own. We should not fall into the trap of thinking we should be able to handle mental health problems on our own.”.

The sad truth is, her decision to actively support the mental health of people in the farm community makes Keller an outlier.

University of Guelph research shows 58% of Canadian farmers can be classified as having anxiety, 35% have depression and 45% report high stress.

While the numbers indicate the need for action, 40% of farmers in that study admitted they wouldn’t seek help.

Keller thinks that needs to change.

Watch. Listen. Ask Questions.

“Every Canadian has the ability to be a support for those in need,” says Denise Waligora, training and delivery specialist with Mental Health First Aid Canada.

“Training helps people hone those skills – and it’s not complicated. Being a mental health first aider begins with having conversations with the people we care about. It’s not about fixing a problem, it’s about recognizing that someone needs help and listening to what they tell you.”

If we don’t initiate that conversation, we could be missing somebody that really needs support" - Denise Waligora

Know the signs

Signs of a mental health struggle can include increased consumption of alcohol, changes in appetite and sleep patterns and a new tendency to isolate oneself. Another red flag is distorted thinking patterns expressed as feelings of worthlessness, sadness or a heightened sense of guilt.

Waligora urges people to set aside assumptions about what “might” be prompting behavioural change. Instead, name the behaviours you’ve noticed and ask how the person is doing. Here, language matters. Don’t ask what’s wrong. Do ask what’s going on, listen, then offer help. “If we don’t initiate that conversation, we could be missing somebody that really needs support,” says Waligora.

As with any health problem, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome" - Denise Waligora

Intervene and support

Conversations about mental health are not one-and-done. Since a person in crisis may not recognize the problem, caregivers must be prepared to open conversations about mental health more than once.

Caregivers can also reach out for help on behalf of someone else, says John McFadyen, executive director of the organization that runs the Farm Stress Line in Saskatchewan. Crisis intervention workers help assess the situation and are an excellent source of information about mental health supports in your community.

Many callers feel better able to cope with a situation after they’ve talked to a trained crisis intervenor. “Help doesn’t always mean medical or professional intervention,” says McFadyen. When a higher-level of support is necessary, access to crisis lines and local supports, like weekly chat groups, can be invaluable during the wait to access professionals like psychologists and psychiatrists, adds Waligora.

“As with any health problem, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome,” she says.

Looking for help for yourself or a loved one? Start with these resources.

Crisis lines: