Philippe Roy, a social work professional and professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, is leading a research project at the university on the mental health of male farmers. The project, overseen by a steering committee, involves bringing together focus groups and providing a safe space where farmers can connect and discuss the challenges they face and their mental health in relation to the norms of masculinity. After holding a few sessions at the end of last year with francophone farmers, the committee is now looking for English-speaking farmers to get involved in the project, including Townshippers.
The steering committee, made up of Roy, Diane Lacroix, regional director of Fédération de l’Union des producteurs agricoles de l’Estrie, René Beauregard, executive director of Au cœur des familles agricoles, Philippe Pagé, executive director of Relève Agricole, and Bruno Letendre, a farmer and owner of Ferme Lait-Z-Érables, organized the project so that farmers can take part across the province. “The fact that we do it over Zoom because of the pandemic brought people together who geographically wouldn’t have been otherwise,” said Roy.
The project focuses on engaging farmers in conversations about mental health using photographs. “The fact that we are working with the photovoice method it is not something random, it is very purposeful. During my Phd on farming men’s mental health, I asked them, what brought you to participate in this research? They said men have no emotion, and farmers even less. Many farmers agree that it is not easy for them to talk about mental health, emotion, or family conflicts. Working with photos is something that is really useful for people that are not as verbal as they could be.”
The focus groups, facilitated by Roy and Letendre, provide a space for learning and growing and those involved in the project last winter developed a special connection. “They are looking as much to have a space to express themselves, but also to be exposed to others’ experience and point of view. I am always surprised at the end they say it’s fun, I opened up more than I expected to and I felt comfortable to open up more. Many said it’s just two meetings, we should meet afterwards, and I’m pretty sure some have exchanged addresses.”
The groups also dived in to deeper conversations that are normally avoided due to ideas surrounding masculinity in the farming sector. “There are layers and barriers to expressing their emotions and having to show pride, that they are strong, invincible, a relentless worker, and this is something that is putting pressure on farming men. There are challenges with farm women too, no doubt.”
The photographs were all about getting farmers to reflect and to discuss what could be done differently to support positive mental health. “What do I want to express through this picture? What does it tell me about the man I am or the man I want to be? And that’s how we get exposed to norms of masculinity that are related to farming.”
Many discussions evolved around the idea of being the relentless worker. “There was a lot of discussion about taking work breaks and valuing work breaks. It might indicate a generational shift; valuing relentless work previously goes to having a work schedule that makes space for family and leisure time and they are proud of it. Some farmers said that you sort of feel bad about yourself or weak and useless. Now I hear more and more that I’m proud to make room for family and for work.”
For those wanting to take part in the project, you can send an email to email@example.com or call 1-819-821-8000 extension 63840. The next meetings will take place on Jan. 27 and Jan. 31 and there is a compensation fee of $30 for each meeting attended.