Farmers attending Ag Days, which starts today at the Keystone Centre, can hear more about what makes them work so hard — sometimes to the detriment of their mental health.
Dr. Michael Rosmann is a U.S.-based clinical psychologist and farmer from Iowa, whose entire career has focused on improving the behavioural health of farmers. He will speak in Brandon about his research into the historical, anthropological and psychological underpinnings of farm society that has led to developing a concept he’s dubbed “the agrarian imperative.” That’s the predisposition passed among successive generations of farmers to work hard — and harder when times get tough.
Farmers driven to survive redouble their effort in times of adversity, and it’s an adaptation that has helped to select out successful farmers from those less driven, says Rosmann.
But studies of farmers worldwide show the same drive that has enabled that survival and success also makes farmers particularly prone to mental health afflictions. Being in a state of hyper-alertness and hyperactivity for long periods eventually depletes both the body and brain’s capacity to stay well.
“It has contributed to the success of farm people, but it also sets us up to experience much anxiety and eventually even depression,” said Rosmann, who is also the founder of Agri-Wellness, a U.S.-based seven-state organization.
Rosmann will speak about emerging research in behavioural psychology in agrarian societies during a morning presentation today at 11 a.m. It will also focus on how farmers can learn to protect their mental health.
These studies reveal a whole new way of understanding ourselves, and can help farmers by learning how to avoid the mental pitfalls that accompany their own psychology.
“The more farmers know how we are made the better off we are, because then we can manage our own personal behaviour,” Rosmann said.
“If we know that we react by working terribly hard and being hyper-alert, then we can begin to follow our own course of adjustment to stress. We can learn how to manage it.”
Janet Smith, program manager with Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services, says she believes farmers will gain valuable insights from Rosmann’s talk. He is also a farmer as well as a researcher, academic and clinical psychologist so he understands agriculture from that perspective as well, Smith said.
“I think what people will get from hearing him speak might help to gel what they already know about themselves and the culture of farming,” she said. “And it behooves all of us to better understand ourselves, in order to learn how to better help ourselves.”
Rosmann will also lead a workshop tomorrow at the Brandon Riverbank Discovery Centre. The session titled “Building Health, Hope And Resiliency In The Agricultural Community” is for health-care professionals, farm financial advisers and others working with the agricultural community, and is being jointly hosted by Prairie Mountain Health, the Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services, and Manitoba Women’s Institute.
That session is aimed at helping the wider community interacting with farmers better understand the psychology of their rural and farm clients. Outside agriculture it’s even less well understood, said Rosmann.
“There is a lot more work to do on that front,” he said.
Ag Days, a three-day show that runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., wraps up on Thursday.
» Manitoba Co-operator, with files from the Brandon Sun