Finding Moments of Stillness in Seeding Season

The Stigma-Free Society recently spoke with Roberta Galbraith, whose family are 6th generation farmers running a grain, pulse, and oilseed operation. Given the stress and high workload of seeding season, we asked Roberta what kind of strategies she and her family use for winding down at the end of the day and finding stillness in the busiest moments of farm management.

Can you tell us about some of the challenges and joys of being a 6th Generation farm family?

There are always challenges with whatever business you are running as an entrepreneur. Probably one of the most important pieces of running a family farm is that you have to communicate, be committed to the process of mentoring and encouraging the next generation that this is a good place to work, raise a family and eventually own or buy into the business. Our story is a bit different in that my husband and I farm with our two sons but our farm is a 1st generation farm that my husband and I started. We had virtually no funds to invest other than our own when we started. It was the end of the 1980’s and farms were suffering from low commodity prices and high interest rates. We both worked outside of the farm and raised five children while starting the farm. I remember vividly my husband Neil coming home when he was 45 years old and saying to me that it was now or never for him to embrace full-time farming. So we made the leap. One day into seeding that year, our tractor blew and we needed to buy a new tractor. We had just bought a sprayer the day before. Talk about stress. I said to my husband “a grain farm without a tractor is like a dairy farm without cows…it doesn’t work very well!” We bought a tractor that day.

You mentioned being in the middle of seeding a crop and feeling behind because of wet weather. How do you find moments of stillness in these particularly busy moments?

Great question! I tried to focus on the fact that I live in a beautiful part of Canada surrounded by wildlife, green spaces, trees and birds. It is peaceful even when it is stressful. I really enjoyed being on the late shift with my two boys (28 and 31) this year, filling the drill at midnight so that my son Ryan could seed through the night. It was nice to work alongside these two–it made me proud to know that they are good men.

What are some ways that you and your family unwind after a stressful day?

Sleep! I like to go for a walk with the dogs, bike ride, sit on the deck with a drink and just soak in the day and my surroundings. I developed a large backyard “park” at the start of the pandemic and have spent hours out there just gardening. Time passes quite easily!

Sometimes we think of self-care as needing to be linear and consistent. But that doesn’t necessarily work in a profession that fluctuates depending on the season. How do your self-care practices change depending on the season?

In the winter I spend more time reading, doing yoga, walking or snowshoeing, and connecting with friends. Once spring hits, we are outside more and the farm really swings into gear. I try to get up early and sit on the deck for a few moments before the day starts, sip my coffee and make lists of what needs to be done or write down thoughts. I am a community volunteer and am involved with several organizations both locally, provincially and up until recently on a national board. That keeps me busy and gives me an outlet where I focus on others, which can be grounding, as other’s challenges can many times be much worse than your own.

How can we work with the changing seasons and fluctuations in busyness to improve our mental health?

Great question and I think it depends so much on your individual situation. Being “tuned” into your stressors, levels of stress and understanding when your plate is getting too full is key to managing stress I think. Also communication is key….understanding that we all have a role to play on the farm and that ALL jobs are important makes everyone pull in the same direction and that keeps spirits up even when we are tired and things don’t go as planned. We like to try and be proactive, plan ahead, think of contingency plans, and “what if” scenarios. If you have talked about it then you are less stressed when something happens because you already know what the Plan B or C or D is. Working with Mother Nature is not for the faint at heart. She holds the last card and learning that early in your career as a farmer and working with her can be a lot less stressful than working against her. Building resilience is, in my opinion, one of the greatest gifts that we can give our children and it is a skill that enhances with experience. Pressing pause sometimes is the best decision. Giving ourselves time to reflect and gather our thoughts and actions is sometimes the best use of our resources–both physical and mental.

Running a farm can be a stressful and demanding business, but even in busy seasons, it’s possible to find and cultivate those small moments of stillness that nurture our wellbeing.

The Benefits of Animals on Mental Health

If you have pets or live with animals on the farm, you probably know that animals can be an incredible form of emotional support. Pets can have many benefits for your mental health, including increasing your physical activity, reducing anxiety through providing companionship and affection, boosting self-confidence and adding structure to your day. In rural areas where mental health services are not always plentiful, spending time with pets is one way of improving your emotional wellness. Of course, owning animals and pets comes with a host of responsibilities and can create new stressors as well. But some research suggests that people who grow up in rural areas around animals have better immune systems and fewer mental health challenges. Pets and animals aren’t going to solve mental health issues, but they can be one factor in improving mental wellness.

Therapy Dogs and Equine therapy are both gaining traction and becoming more common forms of mental health support.

Therapy Dogs

Dogs are wonderfully loving and affectionate and can make great companions. Petting dogs has been shown to improve heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. And of course, dogs can help reduce loneliness and encourage us to exercise and meet new people.

A therapy dog is a dog that has been specifically trained and certified to provide emotional support. According to Companion Paws Canada, “A certified personal therapy dog (Companion Paws emotional support dog) is a trained, temperament tested, evaluated and certified dog that brings positive mental health benefits to their owners/handlers. Often a Therapy Dog is beneficial to those that struggle with mental health conditions.” A therapy dog is not the same as a service dog, and is specifically trained to provide affection and comfort. Wounded Warriors is an organization that matches PTSD service dogs with injured veterans and first responders. The benefits of service dogs for those suffering from PTSD has been shown to be profound.

Of course, you don’t need a therapy dog or a service dog to benefit from an affectionate pooch or the other animals and pets in your life.

Equine Therapy

Equine-assisted psychotherapy combines therapy and interacting with horses, such as grooming, feeding and leading a horse while being supported by a mental health professional. Equine therapy can help build emotional awareness, social skills, impulse control, confidence, problem-solving skills, trust in self and others, and empathy. Equine therapy can be used for all ages and for many different reasons, such as managing grief, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Rather than simply sitting down and talking with a therapist, equine therapy is more experiential and brings people outdoors. People process and work through their emotions while engaging with a majestic and sensitive animal. Horses are highly observant and often mirror client’s behaviours or emotions, which builds connection and understanding. For people who struggle to be vulnerable and open in a therapeutic setting, equine therapy can help people open up and process what they’re going through.

Working with horses also takes a lot of practical effort. Exercising, feeding, and grooming a horse can provide routine and a sense of purpose and structure. Caring for an animal can also help develop empathy. As people learn to work with the horse and develop greater trust and connection, they are also stepping outside of their comfort zone and learning to take more emotional risks in a healing and non-judgmental environment.

For some people, equine therapy, service dogs and therapy dogs can be incredibly helpful for their mental health. If these forms of therapy aren’t right for you or aren’t accessible in your area, that’s okay too. Simply spending time with animals and pets can be a great way of boosting your overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Understanding Climate Change Anxiety in Rural Communities

Climate change can impact people’s mental health in many ways. Natural disasters such as droughts and forest fires can cause displacement, economic stress, and impacts to livelihood. But climate change can also fuel feelings of uncertainty, guilt, despair and anxiety. Recently, the Oxford English Dictionary included a new word: eco-anxiety, which refers to people’s anxiety in regards to climate change. The American Psychological Association describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one’s future and that of next generations.”

Those in farming and rural communities may be more directly impacted by climate change, as their livelihood often depends on environmental factors. The uncertainty and sense of impending change can cause many people significant distress, including a sense of grief and loss as their way of life becomes more precarious.

To understand more about how mental health and climate change are linked, we interviewed Sage Palmedo, a scientist and artist currently pursuing an MD at Dartmouth Medical School while starting a regenerative farm in her rural community.

Can you tell me more about your regenerative farm in Claremont and what prompted you and your partner to begin this endeavor?

We are just starting the process of regenerating a 12-acre piece of property in Claremont, New Hampshire. We are new to rural living—both of us are from more suburban communities, but we share a sense of connection to the Earth and are excited to learn about the local history and culture from our new neighbors.

When we first met, my partner told me he wanted to own a farm someday. At the time, I was the manager of our college’s student-run garden, where we grew vegetables, herbs, and fruits for the college dining hall. I was also studying ecology, which is essentially the interconnected nature of life. I was learning how intelligent the Earth is — plants, animals, fungi, and even soil microbes are all listening to each other at any given moment, coordinating their rhythm of life with one another and exchanging nutrients in a dynamic balance. As I learned more about growing food, I was gaining perspective on the cycles of life and death, and how my actions were connected to the fabric of the planet. I learned about industrial farming and its damaging effects on our ecosystems and our health.

Studying at Princeton showed me how our country was founded upon a distinction between people who grew food and people who had food grown for them. It also showed me how this distinction has manifested itself across the globe and impacted humanity’s relationship with Earth. I started to understand how the evolution of our species into an industrial society—with the powerful extracting from the disempowered—has led to pollution of our Earth, the pollution of our homes, and the pollution of our bodies. In a way, this society has also polluted our minds, by convincing us we don’t have the power to change it.

While my partner and I embark on our farming journey, our goal is to transition into a way of life that feels more connected with the Earth. We recognize that, although this land has a complex colonial history, we are all native to Earth and can adopt a sense of responsibility to heal the disconnect between our species and the rest of the planet. Our first step will be to grow as much of our own food as we can, prioritizing fruit trees, nut trees and other perennials. We are inspired by permaculture as well as Indigenous philosophies of farming—but are still in the early stages of understanding how to homestead and farm, since neither of us came from self-sufficient families. Our ultimate goal will be to share the food we grow with our community, share our philosophy of love, and share what we learn about self-sufficiency, health, and sustainability.

Many people experience distress around climate change, especially those in rural communities whose livelihoods are so closely linked to the environment. What are some strategies for working through these anxieties, and what are some actions that we can take as a community?

I think the first step in addressing our emotions around climate change is to gain an awareness of the causes of climate change. The layers of society that create stress within your body—hierarchies, lack of empathy, corporate profit over people—are the same layers that are responsible for the climate collapse we’re experiencing. Societal structures have disconnected us from Earth’s natural cycles over the past several generations. Instead of thinking about climate change as the source of our anxiety, we can start to understand climate change and psychological stress as interrelated processes. With this perspective, we can start to combine the act of healing ourselves and healing the Earth into one journey—reclaiming our power to heal from a society that profits from the Earth’s collective disempowerment.

One helpful affirmation that we can continue to emphasize to ourselves, and to one another, is that we are not alone. You are not alone. All of life on Earth is in this together—interconnected, interdependent, and alive. You are part of the fabric of Earth, participating in a flow of energy that encircles the planet. Allow yourself to recognize your power, and connect to the present moment. Reality only exists in the present—in the “now”—and everything else is just a story we tell. You have the power to create the story of life on Earth that arises from this moment onwards.

An essential principle of health that applies internally as well as externally is the principle of connection. We can heal from Earth’s collective imbalance simply by listening more deeply to our planet and to one another. Where in your community can you help create more feelings of connectedness toward each other and toward the Earth? This could take an infinite number of forms: inviting non-judgmental conversations, sharing your feelings and perspectives with others, offering to help one another grow communal food or trade offerings… Even if you don’t see things the same way as your neighbor, what do you share? Where can we strengthen our bonds with each other in the support of an interconnected planet? The more connected we become, the more our bodies, minds, and planet will benefit. The first step is to get the conversation going, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution—like our landscapes, our communities are all unique. And you have a unique gift to share with the world in this healing process!

You mentioned you’re interested in cultivating mind-body health and resilience. As a medical student and someone involved in farming, can you talk about how these two worlds intersect and inspire you to cultivate community wellbeing?

While the medical system has traditionally treated the mind and body separately, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the mind and body are profoundly interconnected.

Human societies used to orient around our relationship with the Earth, growing food from the Earth and preparing communal meals. These behaviors—time spent interacting with the Earth, in community—nourished the mind and body at the same time.

In contrast, our global society of today is oriented towards profit. Compared to other regions of the world, North American agriculture consists of larger farms which place more emphasis on machines, chemicals, and genetically modified crops. Big agricultural companies have actively shaped governmental food policy, and as a result, our farmers must meet the demands of the industrial food system to stay financially secure. Driving across the landscape, it is easy to find farms where one single plant species is grown over a large area, year after year—genetically modified corn and soy among the most common. This industrial style of farming undermines the health of the Earth, degrading the microbiome of the soil. It also is the main style of farming used in the production of processed foods; and although a large portion of the foods we consume are processed and packaged, these foods have been shown to disrupt the microbiome within our bodies, undermining our mental and physical health. Industrial farming is a feedback system where, as the health of our soils and our bodies degrades, corporations can profit off of chemicals and engineered seeds that are marketed to fix our problems.

Many healthcare providers have started to recognize the role of nutrition in disease prevention, using the phrase “food is medicine.” Despite this understanding, medical doctors are trained to treat metabolic disease at the individual level, often with medications or surgery. Doctors are not trained to address the root cause of metabolic disease—the industrial food system. Conventional farming treats the land like a machine, and similarly, conventional medicine treats the body like a machine.

Regenerative farming entails working towards a food system that cultivates health on the planet and within our bodies. Despite our mechanical culture, ecological science teaches us that in reality, the land is alive, exchanging information with our bodies at all times. We would like to honor and heal the Earth in the farming process, using the inherent intelligence of nature to nurture the natural intelligence within us. Stress-reduction is an intergenerational process, so the cultural shift towards a healthier society will be gradual. We hope that by cultivating a loving, egalitarian relationship with the Earth beneath our feet, we can play one small role in the collective effort to build an economy centered around human and planetary wellbeing.

Sleep Hygiene and Mental Wellness

When it comes to sleep, there are many benefits to living in rural communities, such as less traffic noise and artificial lights. Those involved in agricultural careers are more likely to sleep and wake with the cycle of the sun, which can be helpful for maintaining consistent sleep routines. Yet according to the Sleep Association, those in rural communities struggle with sleep just as much as those in urban areas. This could be due to many different factors, such as stress levels and greater health inequalities, or the fact that sometimes getting a good night’s sleep is just difficult no matter where you live.

Regardless of where you live, getting enough sleep is one of the most critical actions you can take to maintain overall wellness. Restful sleep benefits your memory, creativity, concentration, problem-solving skills—and, of course, your physical and mental health!

Lack of sleep can cause many problems, including irritation and forgetfulness. Over time, lack of sleep contributes to depression and anxiety. Taking a proactive approach can help mitigate these problems.

Sleep guidelines tend to vary according to age, outlined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. Every individual is different, but the general recommendation for most adults is 7 to 9 hours per night. Sleeping in excess of this amount of hours may be a sign of other problems, but generally people struggle with not getting enough sleep, rather than getting too much.

Sleep Hygiene Strategies

  • There are many things you can do to get better sleep. For best sleep hygiene, pay attention to both your practical routines and your physical environment.
  • Maintain a regular schedule. Aim for a consistent sleep and wake-up time every day. You may want to allow for some sleep-in flexibility over the weekend, but it’s a good idea to keep this variation minimal (e.g. a difference of two hours or less).
  • Budget wind-down time. Spend the last 30 minutes before bed doing something relaxing (e.g. taking a bath, listening to soft music, or reading a book).
  • Watch your screen time. Try to take a break from your phone, iPad, and other electronic devices during your wind-down time. Avoid bringing these devices to bed.
  • Monitor your napping schedule. If you take a nap during the day, schedule this nap no later than the early afternoon to avoid disruption to sleep schedules later.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine, sweets, alcohol, or large meals close to bedtime. Having a light snack before bed may help, but be mindful about what you consume. While many of us enjoy a cup of coffee, consume it in moderation and give the caffeine time to leave your system before your scheduled sleep cycle.
  • Restrict the use of your bed. Doing so will help your body to associate being in bed with rest and relaxation. Most importantly, ensure that you are not working in bed.
  • Get physical exercise and exposure to sunshine during the course of your day if you’re not already doing so. Being physically active and spending time outdoors will help regulate your circadian rhythm. These habits are also good for boosting your overall mood.
  • Find a temperature that is comfortable for you. Many people find that they sleep best when they turn the temperature down a degree or two.
  • Reduce and control your light exposure. Depending on your circumstances, room-darkening curtains and/or eye masks may be useful.
  • Silence or block out distracting sounds. You may find it helpful to use ear plugs, a white noise machine or a noise-blocking app.
  • Use quality bedding and pillows. You don’t need to invest in an expensive mattress, but it’s a good idea to ensure that your materials support and promote your comfort.

Making Positive Changes

Cultivating a healthy sleep routine takes time. It’s okay to start small! Rather than try to manage everything all at once, we suggest picking a few strategies to target right away and then add new habits as you are ready. Tracking your patterns over time can also help you make progress! You can use a sleep diary to help you see how you’re doing.

If you find yourself unable to sleep after you go to bed, experts suggest that it’s best not to lie there, tossing and turning. Instead, get out of bed and do a soothing activity in dim light (e.g. sit on the couch and listen to music or use an adult coloring book). Return to bed when you feel you are ready to sleep.

Getting a good sleep is easier said than done, but keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing matter. Strive for slow, practical, and feasible gains. Most importantly, do not stress about any difficulties you may have falling asleep. That will only exacerbate the problem! Treat yourself with kindness and compassion at every step. Embracing the reality that not every day–or every night–is perfect will ultimately help you on your journey to better sleep

The Value of Support From Someone Who Has Been There

The Following Is From An Interview With Robyn Priest

Being supported by others who have shared your struggles and know what it’s like is the foundation of peer support. For those living in rural and agricultural communities, the Stigma Free Society has partnered with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH to offer peer support worker training funded by Pacific Blue Cross. With this training, individuals in rural communities can start their own support groups.

Robyn Priest kindly spoke to us about the benefits and values of peer support work.

What is mental health peer support and how did you become involved in this world?

For me mental health peer support is about people who have experienced mental health challenges supporting others who are dealing with mental health challenges. It gives a sense of being “normal”, not someone weird; that I am not alone, not the only person experiencing this. I was diagnosed over 25 years ago and there was a job advertised at something called the Wellington Mental Health Consumers Union In New Zealand. I was like, that sounds pretty cool, everyone has their own mental health challenges. It started there and I just kept getting more and more involved. It made sense to me that people who were dealing with their own stuff could chat about it and be real with others. It’s been a great ride, and I have worked in 10 different countries talking about peer support.

Can you talk about what makes peer support unique compared to something like therapy or other mental health resources?

It’s about camaraderie, having someone to talk to who “gets it”. Peer support comes without an agenda. I am NOT trying to get people to do anything. It’s about supporting people to explore what they want in life. I can share my own experiences and how I got through difficult times, something that’s not always encouraged or allowed in other mental health professions. It’s not my job to fix, save or solve anyone’s issues. Peer supporters are there for the person they are supporting, while sometimes the rest of a team may be trying to get the person to take their meds or achieve a certain recovery goal that has been decided for the person. Peer supporters support the individual to explore what they want.

Peer support lacks hierarchies and expert/ patient roles. What is the value of being supported by a peer who has gone through a similar experience, compared to the support received by a clinician?

Often, we are told we don’t have the education, but we do, it’s just a different education. Our practicum may have been being homeless, or in a psych ward, surviving while using substances, etc. Those are real life experiences and skills that we can share. Someone once described peer support as describing the colour blue to someone who had sight and lost it, versus describing the colour blue to someone who never had sight (the clinician). I know that many people working in the mental health field have their own experiences, but it’s about what their job description says they are required to do. As I said earlier, peer support helps people feel less alone, like someone gets them. That they have an ally. If we can support the system to allow peer support to stay true to the Mental Health Commission of Canada peer support values and allow other clinicians to do their job – it’s a win-win for the individual being supported.

Peer support can benefit both the one being supported and the peer support worker. Can you talk more about this?

Peer support, for me, is about mutuality. I am not better than, or more “recovered” than anyone else. I am working on myself everyday and sometimes when we both share experiences, I learn other coping skills/strategies from that person. It’s not about me as a peer supporter requesting support, or sharing all my issues, it’s just in conversation that things transpire. I am there to support that person but we both learn and grow from any discussion.

Can you talk about some of the values within peer support and why they are relevant to mental wellness?

The values of peer support are about being human as far as I am concerned. The MHCC values of peer support are:

  • Hope and Recovery
  • Self-Determination
  • Empathetic and Equal Relationships
  • Dignity, respect, and social inclusion
  • Integrity, authenticity, and trust
  • Health and wellness
  • Lifelong learning and personal growth

For me the values are about being a “real” person at all times, doing what I say I will do, supporting people to choose what they want in life, not thinking I know what others should do, treating everyone with respect, thinking about people as “whole” people not just about their mental health (my mental health is only a part of me, not all of me) and always being willing to learn and grow. I want that for all humanity.

What does strengths-based support mean to you?

We are so often told what we can’t do, or shouldn’t do because it’s too stressful, but strengths-based support says: look at how strong you are, how resilient, how resourceful. Someone may be labelled manipulative, but if I come from a strengths-based approach, that person is a great negotiator (getting their needs met), creative and strategic in how they go about things. Those are great skills to have. Imagine being told you are manipulative versus being told you have great negotiation skills, are creative and strategic. Then I ask, how can you use those amazing skills in life to have the life you want? It’s about supporting people to see themselves not as a victim, or at the mercy of their mental health challenge, but that they can go after what they want in life. We can all go after things in life, we don’t always get what we want but that’s life for everyone – not just people with mental health challenges. I want to support people to dream big and at least try to go after what they want, to not be shut down by people saying it’s unrealistic or not appropriate. Nobody can determine that but the person themselves.

For more information and to register for peer support training, please go HERE or email The next training session will be happening in June.
Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training is free of cost, with a $50 deposit required to secure your spot. Your deposit will be refunded once you attend the session, unless you choose to donate the $50 to the Stigma-Free Society. Donations are always welcome! Deposits for those who do not participate cannot be refunded.

Spots fill up quickly, so register as soon as possible. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to build skills for cultivating empathy and understanding in your local community

Addressing Substance Use Stigma in Rural Communities

Matt Begg works for the Umbrella Society, which is an organization supporting those who use substances, and he has generously shared important insights and information about addressing stigma and supporting those with substance use challenges.

Can you describe your role with the Umbrella Society and your passion behind this work?

I work in Umbrella Society’s housing team as an outreach and support worker for clients who live with addiction. In this role, I develop ongoing relationships with clients in order to help them navigate the various systems and organisations in place to get the help they might need. This looks like referring people to treatment centres or helping clients with basic tasks, like getting their ID or paying taxes. Someone might need a doctor’s appointment or a counsellor, so I’ll help them with that as well. Of course, we also work thoroughly with overdose prevention, both in terms of providing it ourselves as well as teaching clients how to use the tools and contact the authorities when necessary. I also try to support clients with positive reinforcement, and through my past as a client of Umbrella myself, exemplify that people can overcome addiction if that’s something that they want. In short, we’re trying to bring care and much needed support to these communities.

What kind of harmful assumptions and stigma still exist around substance use? Can you break down some of these myths for us?

I think things are getting better to a degree, but absolutely, our clients still face tremendous stigma at all levels of society. They’re often assumed to be dangerous criminals, diseased and dirty. Perhaps the most common thing I hear is that they’re lazy, don’t want to be productive and would rather leech off the system. The truth is that all sorts of people can suffer from addiction, regardless of their behaviour, how they look, class, cultural heritage, or how they live their lives. That said, I would say that often people who suffer from addiction are dealing with some kind of pain. It can be physical, emotional or it could be an ongoing mental health issue. For them, drugs are often like a self-prescribed medicine (or an attempt at it) that allows them to manage living day-to-day.

Are there particular challenges in rural communities when it comes to substance use and the stigma that often surrounds people who use substances?

Absolutely. Drugs are often used as a cure for pain. So, the further removed clients are from resources to deal with their pain in a healthy way, the more likely it is for addiction to continue and worsen with those clients. In the case of clients who have emotional trauma and unresolved emotional pain from their past, the isolation caused by stigma can often amplify the problem. If they already have unresolved trauma, dealing with the implications of addiction, feeling isolated and rejected by their community is only going to make matters worse. In rural places where isolation is more exacerbated and addiction services are minimal, this is even more of a problem. A common phrase in this line of work is “the opposite of addiction is connection,” and that really is true. What people suffering with addiction require is community support and being treated with dignity, care and love.

In more populated places like cities, people in addiction have a lot of community and social options. They can find anonymity when that is valuable, and they can find large communities of people in similar situations and are surrounded by considerably more support. Unfortunately, when we look at rural communities, it’s really hard for people in addiction to feel anonymous or to find large-scale community support. When you couple that with the stigma that most addicts are aware of, it can be difficult for somebody in addiction to even justify walking into a grocery store or a coffee shop. Feeling judged or degraded by one’s own community will only serve to create further anxiety and shame in that person, which of course will be worse for their addiction.

If any community, rural or otherwise, wishes to address addiction seriously, then love, care and empathy need to be forefront, using a non-judgmental approach.

How does this stigma discourage people from reaching out for help and accessing needed support?

It is a huge deterrent for clients accessing services. Like I was saying about someone in addiction not wanting to go to a grocery store for fear of being treated poorly or judged, those same feelings of shame can prevent somebody from accessing the services that they need. If you feel like being labelled a drug addict comes with all these other negative stigmas, then why would you go access services that are for drug addicts in any kind of a public way? This is amplified considerably in rural areas where somebody is trying to maintain their own dignity in a closely knit and transparent community.

Alternatively, if addiction was always met with empathy and care, people would be far more likely to access services. It all comes down to care and dignity.

What kind of support exists for people using substances (especially in rural communities)?

If somebody is coping with addiction and looking for supports, there are all kinds out there. A person could reach out for counselling or access a 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. From a medical perspective, a person could also speak with their doctor about various pharmaceutical solutions. If a person is hoping to overcome their addiction, they can usually find a local medical detox, and if more is needed there are treatment centres and sober living solutions in most places. A lot of these facilities accept people from abroad, making them ideal for people in rural areas. For people who are just trying to maintain an addiction in a healthier way, there are harm reduction organizations and doctors that can offer safe supply (in some places), and even supervised locations where you can use drugs in order to help prevent and treat overdoses. Of course, if somebody wants an outreach worker to help them navigate this sometimes complicated network of options, they can always contact an organization such as Umbrella.

Thankfully, more and more organizations such as these are becoming available. Community and healthcare professionals and governments are starting to realize that treating addiction as part of a greater mental health solution works very well and can save lives. That said, there’s still a lot of social stigma that gets in the way of programs like these being implemented. As we continue to replace stigma with actual education about addiction, I’m sure programs like these will become better funded and more accessible.

Can you explain what a harm-reduction approach is?

Harm Reduction is a strategy for approaching addiction that seeks to reduce harm within the practices of that addiction, be that physical or emotional harm. This approach is opposed to strategies like criminalization or abstinence, where people aren’t given care if they’re still involved in drugs. In a harm reduction approach, people are given care and solutions that fit their needs. Of course, if somebody wants to get sober, services would certainly be provided to achieve that, but for people still in active addiction, a harm reduction approach aims to support them as best as possible despite their continued use. This can take the form of outreach services, safe supply of non-street drugs, clean and unused drug paraphernalia, safe sex supplies and education, safe drug use sites, elevated medical and clinical support, and an overall practice of treating people with care and love.

A common misunderstanding about harm reduction is that it causes elevated drug use in communities, the misconception being that if it’s easier to get drugs and easier to get the tools to get drugs, then more people will do drugs. But repeated studies have shown this is not the case. Ultimately, living a life entrenched in addiction isn’t glamorous or fun, so providing adequate support for people doesn’t make it any more appealing.

How can family, friends and community members best support someone who is struggling with substance use?

“The opposite of addiction is connection” is a pretty good baseline for making decisions around helping people with addiction in our lives. For people hoping to help members of their communities and their loved ones, I would definitely say first and foremost to let the person know they are loved and they are valued. Beyond that, helping to connect them to an outreach worker or a social worker who can tackle some of the more complex systemic stuff would be really helpful. Oftentimes, people in addiction know they need help but struggle to know exactly what they should do and in what order. Trying to navigate complex intake forms and treatment applications while also trying to manage an active addiction is pretty difficult. Also, making sure to consult a medical professional before trying to quit drugs is very important. Some addictions require constant medical supervision due to the dangers of such considerable chemical changes in a person’s body. And lastly, I would say familiarize yourself with how to access and use harm reduction supplies. Naloxone kits save lives everyday, so get your hands on one and learn how to use it.

For people in addiction, simply showing them that you love them and you’re going to be there is enough to help them start making healthier decisions. Many people in addiction struggle with shame and guilt and depression, so whatever you can do to not be a part of that cycle in terms of the way you talk to and treat them will be of tremendous value. It all comes back to care and dignity.

The Impact of Stigma on Mental Illness

Stigma has a terrible impact on mental illness. Stigma is based on stereotypes and assumptions about our differences. Characteristics such as race, gender identity, a disability, mental illness or any other noticeable difference can be directly targeted, and often unintentionally. Stigma can affect all people, but especially people from marginalized groups.

Stigma can lead to discrimination such as physical and mental abuse, including neglect, and can have a negative enough impact to even be life-threatening. Discrimination can either compound mental illness or be a factor that contributes to the development of mental illness in an otherwise healthy person.

Social stigma is a harmful, inaccurate, or unfair judgment about members of society who often have a noticeable or perceived difference. People follow stereotypes which can cause them to incorrectly assume that others with differences will typically act inappropriately, fail in their social contribution, and be unworthy of care and positive regard.

Self stigma is another form of stigma that can be very harmful. Self-stigma is a negative view of oneself where one may unfairly judge one’s own characteristics and behaviour. In many cases, self-stigma can arise from the impact of social stigma and can also fuel social stigma, as the presentation of self-stigma, such as low self-esteem, can confirm stereotypical views.

Groups in society have certain views about how we are expected to act or look, and how people with differences should be treated. Stigma may cause others to blame or reject another person because of concerns or differences that are caused by biological, psychological, social, or environmental factors. Through every-day social-learning, people in society learn and normalize stigma towards others. This happens when those around us and the media we consume share stereotypes that may be inaccurate and cause us to make false assumptions about people.

Discrimination based on stigma in daily life can lead to anything from mild rudeness to bullying, serious verbal abuse and physical assault. Resources can be cut off because of stigma. This unfair treatment cannot be justified, yet sometimes the dynamics and unfair judgments of a social network and society enable it. A person and their behaviour can be seen through the filter of an assumed problem within their differences, rather than identifying the person’s actual character or attributes. For example, a person may be treated as poorly, even bullied or ostracized, just because they talk a certain way or have a certain look about them. When their “different” behaviour, that would otherwise be acceptable or welcomed, is attached to a label or stereotype about their character, they can be treated as dangerous or incompetent just because of the stigma of that label. This can have a huge impact on a person’s day-to-day functioning. Stigma can limit a person’s chance of success in socializing, seeking employment and other opportunities.

The stress from stigma has a negative impact on most people and can worsen or be a factor in developing mental health challenges. Those with a diagnosis of mental illness, or experiencing symptoms, may already deal with the extra stress of stigma because they are a visible and targeted group. People with or without a diagnosis can be more predisposed to mental illness through factors like genetics, biology, history and environment. Stigma, such as bullying, is much more likely to trigger mental health challenges when a person is predisposed to mental illness.

Stigma can make a good person seem ‘bad’. The limited view of society and the public eye can often miss the true nature of peoples’ individual lives. Every day, so many well-meaning people are bullied or discriminated against because of a stigmatizing judgment about them. People in society put up barriers because of their social expectations around stereotypes. This can make many tasks in life instantly harder for people with differences, even getting groceries or going to the beach. At every turn stigma can wear a person down causing major challenges in life.
This can cause a person to feel reduced hope, lower self-esteem, difficulties with social relationships and more difficulties at work and school. Stigma can be thoroughly draining.

Peoples’ stigmatized behaviour can be viewed as unacceptable, even though their contribution to society is fair to excellent. Regardless of their contribution, everyone has the right to dignity and respect. With an understanding and education about the person’s history, condition and relevant social or environmental factors in a situation, this stigma can often be averted, and a person and their behaviour can become accepted.

The combination of social stigma and self-stigma can cause people to believe insults and degrading language that they hear from others. The stress of bullying and unfair practices with stigma can cause serious harm, especially to those most vulnerable. If people in general could learn more about mental illness, stigma, and mental health, and open lines of communication before stigma becomes a problem, then those living with mental health challenges will undoubtedly experience greater acceptance and wellbeing.

Tips To Help You Manage Different Perspectives

It may seem like a difficult task in today’s landscape to work with or be around others who have differing opinions, beliefs and behaviours than you. However, suppose you can find a way to look past those differences and make them work for you. If that were the case, you could have a powerful team, more loving family dynamic, more open minded network or collaborative working relationship with others that is healthy, creative and successful despite differing views.
It’s common to think you have the “right” answer to something based on your own experiences, knowledge, and conditioning; but the minute you believe your own perspective is the absolute truth you tend to stop listening to others. This creates conflict, division and a fixed mindset that stops inner growth or development of a relationship.

It’s essential in business (and in life) to learn how to work with and include the views of others who have differing opinions and do things differently than you. As a business owner, it’s important that you don’t undermine your team members or clients. As an individual, you don’t want to alienate your loved ones, friends or potential connections by openly criticizing their opinions. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to be open and honest about your thoughts and opinions as long as it’s communicated in a respectful way.
So, how do you successfully work with or stay in healthy relationships with others who have different opinions from you or do things differently?

Engage In Healthy Debate And Discussions

Take an active interest in what others bring to the table by asking them for their ideas and input. You open yourself up to the person and new possibilities by doing this. Make a point of taking away at least one piece of new information, insight or validating thought that backs your own viewpoint.

Pinpoint Areas Of Strength And Zones Of Genius

Everyone has a unique set of strengths that are different from yours. When you understand them and make the most of them, everyone contributes the best of themselves and you can achieve more. This will also help reduce the risk of competition as people feel uniquely needed in their role.

Let Go Of Needing To Be Right

Remind yourself that your opinion or solution might not be the right or only one. In fact, assume that there is a good chance that they are about, or at least 50% wrong. What would that mean in regards to the opinions and viewpoints you hold? Is there some room for flexibility in thinking?

Effectively managing different opinions means welcoming all options rather than fearing them. When two people or more have different opinions, start by viewing it as a good thing and think about how you can learn from each view. The solution may lie in a combination of different opinions.

Think About Who Shares The Same Beliefs As You

We all know the saying you are the company you keep. We are all seeking understanding and a level of belonging which can lead us astray at times. Look at the people, their opinions, their ways of thinking and most importantly their behaviours that match your values, not as a way to receive validation but to make sure you feel at home with, proud of and safe to be associated with these people and happy that others will view you the same way.

Don’t Be Rude, But Set Boundaries Like A Boss

Differences and tensions are often the results of a lack of communication. It’s crucial to communicate with intention. Share openly when appropriate, listen most of the time, have a goal to leave the person you are engaged with feeling good about you, themselves, and the conversation. Energy goes where energy flows. Do your bit to create an open and positive atmosphere.

It’s essential to learn to stay open, kind, and curious in all relationships. Each person has something to bring to the table, and when we learn to listen and communicate openly, amazing things happen!
You also have the right to refrain from discussing and debating things you feel are derailing the relationship or the atmosphere. Setting boundaries is crucial to personal safety and empowerment. Sometimes no response is the best response.
If any of these tips seem unrelatable, or not an option for you when you run up against someone with a differing view, you may need to check yourself and connect to the part of you that is not willing or open.

Ask Yourself…

What In Me Would Like To Change Something In Them?

Self inquiry is always the way to better relationships. Stop looking at someone else and assuming they need to change to make you more comfortable. Understand why you would invest in judging, criticizing or belittling someone else to make them fully wrong and you feel right. Maintaining integrity, setting healthy boundaries and agreeing to disagree are all great solutions when you find yourself in tough conversations.

Meagan Saum – Heart Centered Life and Business Coach

Navigating Financial Stress in Farming

The farming industry is particularly vulnerable to financial fluctuations and uncertainty, which can be a major contributor to stress and mental health challenges for farming families. The Stigma-Free Society spoke with Gerry Friesen, also known as the “Recovering Farmer”, about managing the financial stress involved in farming. Gerry is a stress expert and public speaker who gives workshops and presentations related to stress management in the farming community.

Can you share your experience in the farming community and in helping people manage the financial stress involved in farming?

Since 2000 I have been involved in farm debt mediation. Over that time, I’ve helped over 500 farm families dealing with financial stress. Although many of these mediations involved creditors, most also involved conversations around the kitchen table. Through those conversations, farmers invariably spoke about the overwhelming stress they were experiencing.

During that time, I was also farming and experiencing high stress. As a result of the various stressors involved in farming, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

What are some of the financial challenges involved in farming, and how can this impact farmer’s mental health? Has this changed over the years?

Farmers are in a unique situation of having to invest significant financial resources without knowing what the returns will be. Factors like weather events, trade actions, government policies, consumer demands, disease issues and others impact the bottom line. Added to this are ever increasing decisions that farmers have to make, and each decision influences the next. We are only one decision away from a completely different outcome, and the stakes are high.

As farming has changed over the years, research has shown that incidents of depression and anxiety have increased. A survey done in 2016 by the University of Guelph revealed that out of 1100 farmers surveyed, 45% of respondents had high stress, and 58% met the criteria for an anxiety disorder.

In your experience, how does stress impact farm business management?

Despite the stress, the business must move forward. There will continue to be risks and opportunities. But when we are unable to handle the stress, we run the risk of the following:

  1. Capitulation — just selling at whatever price is available today because you just can’t stand worrying about it anymore.
  2. Denial — refusing to accept that some unpalatable prices or government policies will just have to be swallowed.
  3. Obsession — not being able to stop thinking about the crops in the field or wet in the bin — what they could have been worth and what they might end up being sold for.
  4. Paralysis — being unable to make any choices because every decision seems too fraught with danger.
  5. Desperation — looking for a magic bullet, secret weapon or miracle to resolve the problem.
  6. Paranoia — looking for evil forces or conspiracies to explain unfortunate situations.

Farm Management Canada did a study called Healthy Minds-Healthy Farms that explores the relationship between mental health and farm business management. They define stress as “the personal, emotional response to external factors, or stressors.” Typically, when we make choices, we think about the pros and cons and reflect on past experiences. But stress has the ability to cloud a logical approach. When stress overwhelms us, we run the risk of making less rational decisions. In times of stress, we are more likely to overlook negative information that may clarify our decisions and would rather focus on a positive outcome from the past. Research has shown that rational, emotionally stable and conscientious farmers are more likely to have a profitable business.

What sort of tools can you share with farmers for managing financial stress and uncertainty, and for coping with the mental health challenges this can lead to or exacerbate?

It’s always advisable to remain aware of what your financial situation is. I know from experience that checking your bank balance can be difficult when things are tight. But I’ve also learned that it’s easier to deal with a known rather than the unknown. When we are unaware, we have a tendency to worry, which is simply our mind dealing with something we don’t want to have happen.

And as we do with equipment breakdowns or disease issues, it can be helpful to reach out for help. A farm business management specialist can help you compile your financial information, talk through options, and can critique business plans. It’s always helpful to verbalize plans with a neutral third party.

Are there specific resources you can recommend for farmers who want to learn more about managing financial stress and uncertainty?

Over the years, there has been a substantial increase in resources for farmers seeking to deal with financial stress and uncertainty. Lenders such as Farm Credit Canada provide resources to further educate farmers. Of note is a booklet called Rooted in Strength which provides anecdotal stories from farmers experiencing stress. Farm Management Canada has resources for farmers to use and regular webinars for those interested in enhancing their farm business management. Provincial Agriculture departments often have resources to help with financial management. The key is to seek out the information that can help you in your specific situation.

Do you have any tips for young farmers just getting started who might not fully understand the financial pressures involved in farming?

  1. Be aware of an ever-changing environment.
  2. Write a business plan to be cognizant of cost of production, margins, marketing plans, etc. Among farmers who use written business plans, 88% claim that it’s improved their mental health.
  3. Make sure your goals are achievable.
  4. Avail yourself to all the advice from experts. But also ensure that the advice you get can work for your farm.
  5. Always ensure communication lines are open, whether that is with business partners, creditors, or others.
  6. Be honest with yourself and others.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  8. At the end of the day, don’t complicate or compound the challenges you may have. Keep it simple.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing overwhelming stress and anxiety, you can also seek mental health support resources here.