May 6-12 is the 68th annual Mental Health Week in Canada. When we talk about mental wellness, there are two very important definitions to be aware of: sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is feeling concerned for someone and a wish for them to be happier. Empathy is a person’s ability to recognize and share emotions of others and understand their perspective.

Decooman cheryl
President / People Management Group
Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or @udderlySAFE on X and Instagram.

When talking about mental health and being supportive of peers, it is important to show empathy, as it is more compassionate and meaningful than sympathy. The YouTube video “Brené Brown on Empathy” does a great job explaining the two, and I highly recommend watching it.

Mental wellness is a considerable concern across all Canadian industries. Recently, research has focused on mental illness in agriculture. In a study conducted in 2015, 40 percent of producers across Canada feel uneasy about seeking professional help in fear of the judgment from others. It was also found that 35 percent of producers met the criteria for depression, 45 percent classified as high-stress, and 58 percent met classifications for anxiety.

In Canada, 30 percent of short- and long-term disability claims are due to mental health illness.

There are many detrimental impacts of mental illness on the farm. It can negatively impact farmers, their families, their animals, their product, profits and the safety of themselves and their employees on the farm.


Wellness in others

How can you recognize if one of your employees is experiencing mental illness? Signs of mental illness vary from person to person. Some signs may include doubting of abilities or decrease in confidence; difficult time concentrating, learning and making decisions; as well as attitude and physical changes. Some common attitude changes include social withdrawal, extreme mood changes, inability to cope with daily stressors and taking an unusual amount of time off. Common physical changes can be sudden increase or decrease of weight, reduced energy, signs of exhaustion and poor hygiene.

So how can you help? The easiest answer is to reach out to co-workers, peers and family members who you notice negative changes in, like the ones mentioned above. Do not try to give them advice or try to “cheer them up.” Extend an empathetic hand and let them know you have noticed these changes, and you are here to listen if they want to talk.

Starting the conversation is often one of the most difficult parts. Try starting the conversation off with: “Over the past few days (or weeks), I have noticed ____. This concerns me because ___.” Expressing your concern without making assumptions or judgment is crucial to reaching out to others.

When responding to co-workers’, peers’ and family members’ mental health concerns, it can be difficult to know what to say. Phrases such as, “That sucks; get over it” or “Man up” are not helpful. If they had a broken leg, you would not tell them to walk it off. Be mindful that this is a difficult time for them, and show empathy in your responses. It can be embarrassing for the person you are concerned with to share their feelings and concerns with you, so do not push for answers. Some phrases that show empathy include:

  • I am very sorry you are dealing with this.

  • I cannot imagine what you are going through.

  • Is there anything I can do for you that would help?

  • You are not alone.

  • How are you handling this? There are resources in the community that you can utilize if you need to speak to someone, like the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

  • Thank you for confiding in me.

Finally, talk about what the person you are concerned for needs moving forward. Creating a plan of care puts them on a path of help and recovery.

Wellness for self

When we get busy on the farm, it is easy to focus on what needs to be done and not think about what is best for you as the producer. There is an extra level of stress when you are the one everyone relies on to get things done. Oftentimes, we do not recognize negative changes in our own mental wellness, especially when concerns of work overtake our lives.

When a co-worker, employee, family member or friend approaches you with concerns about your mental wellness, it is not good to get mad or defensive at that person. They are coming from a place of concern and because they care for you; they want to make sure you are doing OK.

Listen to their concerns, and be honest with yourself and them about what has been happening with your mental health lately. Do not feel you have to completely open up to the person with concern if you do not feel comfortable with that, but you should reach out to someone you trust. This could be a spouse, parent, other family members, friend, co-workers or professional help, such as a licenced therapist.


  • CMHA has been serving communities since 1918. The CMHA website has resources covering a variety of mental health concerns. From easy-to-read documents on anxiety to depression to care for a caregiver, they have helpful advice for everyone. The CMHA has branches in almost every county in Canada, and the best way to find the closest one to you is to Google “CMHA + your county.”

  • The Do More Agriculture Foundation is another great Canadian not-for-profit that focuses on mental health in agriculture. This organization is based in the Prairies, but that does not mean they are not a great online resource for Canadians across the country in agriculture. You can visit their website (Do More).

Mental health is just as important as physical health. If you saw a friend with a broken arm, you know they are in pain and probably need some help. People with mental health concerns need help too, but they may be concerned about the stigma of asking for help. So reach out and care for the people around you; it makes communities and farms stronger and better if everyone is mentally well.  end mark

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or UdderlySAFE on Twitter and Instagram.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Cheryl DeCooman