By TerryTinkess
AgriNews Staff Writer

Mental health and wellness support is readily available to all Ontario farmers and farm families as a telehealth line dedicated to the agriculture sector is now live.

The Telehealth line (1-866-267-6255) is part of the Farmer Wellness Initiative (FWI), which addresses growing mental health concerns in the agricultural sector across the province.

“The mental health crisis in the agricultural community has been well documented in recent years and the Farmer Wellness Initiative fills a critical gap for farmers and their families across Ontario,” says Peggy Brekveld, farmer, and president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “Bottom line, if you’re part of a farm family in Ontario and need mental health support for any reason, this Telehealth line is available to you.”

To develop and launch this initiative the OFA has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario Division and LifeWorks. It is the first step of a multi-year, province-wide program that provides free counselling services virtually, in-person or on the phone by professional counsellors with agricultural backgrounds and training.

The confidential helpline is accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in both English and French, as well as up to 30 other languages. Information on how to use the free service is available on the new FWI website.

To raise awareness, OFA has through TV, radio, print and online ads, launched the Farmer Wellness Initiative – Fields to Forks campaign in conjunction with different Bell Media outlets across the province.

“We want to make as many farmers and their families as possible aware of this new service and that help is available if someone needs it, regardless of their farm organization membership or affiliation,” says Bruce Buttar, OFA director and chair of the Farmer Wellness Initiative Advisory Committee.

“We’ve been developing many resources to help break the silence around mental health, including the new FWI website that helps people identify when they might need help and what happens once they pick up the phone to make that first call.”

Other advisory committee members represent the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, L’Union des Cultivateurs Franco-Ontariens, National Farmers’ Union, Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario, University of Guelph, and the Rural Ontario Institute.

The mental health helpline for farmers can be reached at 1-866-267-6255; additional resources are available on the Farmer Wellness Initiative website.

The initiative is paid for in part by the governments of Canada and Ontario and through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial initiative.