Connecting with others is an inherently human desire. Everybody wants – and needs – to feel like they can connect with others and that they belong somewhere. From her research on shame, Dr. Brené Brown has developed a definition of what it is to be and feel connected: “We are hardwired to connect with others. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and, without it, there is suffering.”
The number of farmers who publicly share about their mental health is slowly climbing. But why? What’s the point of sharing such personal stories about ourselves to, sometimes, a group of complete strangers?
Speak up and connect
It can be very difficult to speak honestly about the toll farming takes on mental health. Consumers are as far removed from the farm as they’ve ever been so it’s really no wonder that knowledge and opinions about what farmers do reflect that giant divide.
Tim May, known online as Farmer Tim, is an Ontario dairy producer who has made it his mission to repair the disconnection between farmers and consumers. “It’s the gist of what I do,” says Tim. “I try to gain consumer trust by showing people that we’re much more the same than we are different.” Tim shares about daily life on his farm to his 40,000+ followers, including how he’s feeling and how farming affects his mental health. “I share that I’m a consumer, too. I go to the grocery store and I have a family and I have good days and bad days. I find that some of my ‘bad day’ posts are some of the most popular because people are empathetic. At the same time, you don’t want people to feel sorry for you. I want to show them that I’m passionate about what I do but that, as farmers, we have certain stressors that other people don’t have to deal with.”
Hard conversations are the ones most worth having. Sharing about mental health is hard. But doing so helps bring consumers back to the heart of the matter, which is that farmers are humans too, and it’s easier to connect with and relate to farmers than others may think.
Everybody hurts sometimes
Mental health is the common ground that can bring people together, no matter what they do or where they live. Lesley Kelly is a marketer, speaker and grain farmer from Saskatchewan, and co-founder of the Do More Ag Foundation. Lesley says she begins speaking to a crowd, farmers or consumers, by addressing the elephant in the room. “I always start with recognizing how awkward it is. But it’s awkward because we don’t talk about mental health, and we were taught that that’s the way it should be. You’re ‘supposed to’ have high stress, often every day, because that is all that we know or have seen. When in fact, there are ways to help manage and reduce this state.”
As more farmers speak up and share their struggles, the stigma around mental health is eroding, according to Lesley. “Mental health connects us all. A lawyer from downtown Toronto can have a very similar story to a farmer in Saskatchewan. They just don’t know how to get their feelings out. It’s a big problem but I do believe it’s solvable.”
Sharing about your mental health, whether on social media or in person, can help repair the disconnection between consumers and farmers, helping everyone realize that we are all connected.