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You Aren’t Alone in Your Mental Health Battle: Lesley Kelly

It’s the season of seeding, and along with a new crop, this time of year can bring a lot of stress for growers. You may feel alone in your anxiety, but mental health advocate and farmer Lesley Kelly wants everyone to know the battle doesn’t have to be an independent one.

“Going into this time of year there are lots of emotions with the anticipation of the seeding and what’s to come,” she said. “I know from the farmers I’ve been chatting with there is lots of excitement but there’s also stress and some worry and anxiety.”

Kelly said a lot of that stress comes factors out of your control:

  • Weather and what it will be like
  • Drought or flood
  • Market fluctuations
  • Losing calves
  • Doing physical farm work, which leads to exhaustion, impacting your overall mental health
  • Feeling isolated due to working by yourself on the farm
  • The negative public perception of farmers
  • Succession planning

On top of everything, there’s always the pressure of making a profit even when everything is working against you. Kelly noted those factors don’t include the everyday stressors people deal with.

“Those feelings are normal,” she said.

On Kelly’s farm, they’ve started to manage their mental health with self-awareness. She said in the beginning, they struggled a lot and didn’t know what to call their anxiety and depression. So, after family members started showing more signs of not being OK, they “opened the door” and started talking about it.

“I didn’t know my brother was struggling,” said Kelly. “I start to think he’s coming to the farm late so he’s not pulling his weight or doing his fair share, but I didn’t realize he was up all night and didn’t sleep.”

That prompted Kelly to gain more knowledge on what those feelings her brother had were. She soon realized if you could identify that you’re feeling sad, you should do an activity that brings you joy. If you’re overwhelmed, create a list, and if you’re angry, exercise and release that energy.

Recognizing those feelings, though, isn’t always easy — so instead, Kelly recommends identifying your baseline.

“Everyone’s baseline is different,” she said. “I started to see some signs with my husband. This time of year, he’d go into tractor and was unable to start it because he was just overwhelmed with anxiety. I realized something was definitely going on for him.”

Knowing your baseline and the baseline of those around you could save lives. There are three things to look for:

  1. Feelings, emotions, and reactions being intense
  2. Long-lasting difference in character
  3. Those intense reactions are impacting relationships and day-to-day activities

“Recognizing those things and not knowing what else to do is OK,” said Kelly. “Sometimes we may not realize what we’re going through but talking about the hard stuff is important. It’s a new skill to talk about it.”

She said what really opened the door for her and her husband was sitting on the deck one day and just talking about each other’s worlds and airing out all their stressors to each other. Then, they each knew what the other was dealing with, and even though they couldn’t offer solutions, they could offer support.

“It’s like planting seeds of support,” she said.

That can include asking questions with curiosity, checking in on people, and noticing them and their behaviour. If someone does share their feelings with you, something as simple as saying “I’m proud of you” and “I’m here for you” can be a big help.

“Little supportive statements can really make a big impact,” said Kelly. “It’s about reaching in — not reaching out.”

Which means it’s important to check on those around you, because reaching out could be all the energy they have.

If you’re struggling and need help but don’t know who to talk to, there are resources out there. Do More Ag has national crisis lines and provincial crisis lines on their website here for anyone to use in a time of need. When Kelly’s husband called one, they gave him tips and tools to work through the crisis and preventative tools for the future.

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