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Rural and agricultural mental health initiatives receive funding in Ontario


August 18, 2021
By University of Guelph (edited)

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Two University of Guelph research projects that seek to understand current mental health challenges in farming and rural communities have received $287,804 in funding. Both projects aim to improve service delivery.

Leith Deacon, associate professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, received $231,554 in Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance funding for a major survey on the mental health impacts of disruptive events in rural Ontario.

Andria Jones-Bitton, associate professor in the department of population medicine, and postdoctoral fellow Briana Hagan received $56,250 from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership for the Ontario Farmer Mental Health Survey, a targeted survey of farmer mental health that will be used to develop an agriculture literacy program and information for a mental health care audience.

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Deacon will collect community data on the challenges and experiences faced by vulnerable populations in rural Ontario. He will highlight successful initiatives in rural communities and make recommendations for developing response plans for COVID-19 and future disruptive events.

While COVID-19 has impacted all members of society, Deacon said the pandemic has affected rural and small communities differently, including access to medical services and dependable internet.

“In order to ensure that the services that are available reflect the needs of the community, locally collected, relevant and valid data is the one of the most important parts,” Deacon said, adding the data collected for his study will be highly detailed. “This enables response plans to consider the realities of all residents from a community.”

His project asks rural residents a series of questions aimed at illuminating the specific types of anxieties they face. The data will provide crucial information that helps organizations that deliver mental health services better understand their populations.

Jones-Bitton said the Ontario Farmer Mental Health Survey is an extension of her national survey of farmer mental health in Canada.

“It will augment our understanding of the experience of farmer mental health in Ontario, including the issues and experiences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said, adding it will shed light on things like stress, depression, anxiety and burnout in farmers.

“The thorough and up-to-date information on several important mental health outcomes in farmers, as well as resilience and coping skills and the impacts of COVID-19, can be used for priority planning among local and provincial organizations, as well as longer-term training and research needs,” she said.

A third initiative supporting rural mental health received funding as part of the recent announcement by the government of Ontario. The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) will research existing mental health services and supports that are tailored to needs of international agricultural workers employed on Ontario farms. OHCOW will recommend strategies to improve mental health and well-being services and psychosocial supports available to agri-food workers.