Paving the Way for Mental Health in Ag - Our Youth Speak Up

Do More Ag asked the inspiring 18 year old Tia Schram how she envisioned the landscape of mental health in a Q&A that we think everyone needs to read.

You might remember Tia Schram from the piece written on her this summer. You can see the original article here. Tia shared a moving speech at the Calgary Stampede speaking about Mental Health in Agriculture. If you scroll to the bottom you can see the speech. We reached out to Tia to ask her a couple of important questions. Needless to say we feel hopeful knowing that there are young people like Tia taking their opportunities on stage to talk about the issues that matter most to them. Keep reading to be inspired by the wise, compassionate and driven Tia Schram.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself Tia!

1.My name is Tia Schram and I hail from Bruderheim, AB where my family owns and operates North Hill Simmentals. We run 550 head of cattle and approximately 2000 acres of grain. I grew up heavily involved with junior cattle shows, 4-H and I currently sit on the Alberta Young Canadian Simmental Association board. This fall I will be attending Concordia University of Edmonton to pursue my Bachelor of Management degree where I will also be playing on the women’s volleyball team.

2. How did you come to be interested in the mental health of agriculture?

2.In November of 2017 a man who I would consider a mentor to me posted a video to Facebook talking about his experience with mental health and the struggles he had been facing and receiving treatment for. That is what really caught my attention and initiated my role in bringing more communication to the issue. In April, a young man took his life and that is what really sparked the movement in my mind. I hadn’t realized how many people in the farming community were affected by mental illness, and I wanted everyone to be aware of the growing issue. So, to answer your question, I became interested in the mental health of agriculture by being impacted by those around me. The people who were affected were the last people I would have expected to be suffering and that played a huge role in why I wanted to bring awareness to this topic.

When you break your arm, there is a physical sign that you are hurting and people will approach you and ask if you need help. With mental health, you have to be willing and have the courage to ask others for help which also means admitting to having a mental illness. I want everyone -whether they are apart of the agriculture industry or not- to feel safe asking for help and know that there is support out there.

3. What would you say is the current state of mental health in Ag?

3. I would say that the current state of mental health in agriculture is fairly unknown. In recent months more attention has been drawn to the topic, however the conversation can always go further. In the last year there has been an increasing number of suicides and attempted suicides. It is my hope that the conversation that has started as a result of these tragedies helps end the stigma around mental health and helps farmers become more comfortable talking about these issues. The state of mental health in agriculture is far from where it once was, but it still has a long way to go.

4. Do you think that the current state of mental health is sustainable? Where will this take us?

4. Agriculture is a unique industry that provides many demands for the people working within it. It is an industry based on relationships and needs to nurture its workers to be truly sustainable. I definitely think a lot of progress has been made in regard to this topic, however I still feel there is more to be done to ensure sustainability.

More farmers are becoming comfortable reaching out about their state of mental health. However, I feel that to be truly sustainable, every farmer must feel safe and supported when it comes to asking for help and communicating concerns regarding their mental wellbeing. Getting to this point involves eliminating the idea that mental illness means you are weak. A person must not only feel safe asking for help, but they must also feel comfortable entering the industry after receiving treatment. There should be no concerns of judgment from their peers because that is where pride becomes a factor and farmers become more hesitant in reaching out.

5. Who is your hero and why?

5. One of the people who inspires me within the beef industry is someone that I would consider a friend to all. He interacts with everyone and his passion for agriculture is contagious. He is one of the most enthusiastic and hard working members of the farming community and is never afraid to ask questions. He is always willing to listen and learn and by interacting with his two children, it is apparent that this is something he is instilling in them as well.

Mr. Lee Kemp is my hero. Not because of the struggles he has faced or the achievements that he has had, but because of his character. Although we mostly only spoke at cattle shows, I would consider him a friend as well as a mentor. He supports every child in the showring, not only his own which I feel is so important in creating a positive environment for junior members. He has taught me that you can be both kind and competitive. No belt buckle is worth turning your back on kindness.

“Be someone who makes everybody feel like a somebody.” -unknown I feel that this quote compliments his character quite perfectly in my mind, and that is why I would consider him to be my hero.

6. What do you think older generations could do to support younger generations that are choosing agriculture as their profession?

6.I think what is very important for older generations to recognize that there is a generation after them. In terms of support I think it can come in many different forms. I believe that the greatest way to influence the next generation is through knowledge. The curriculum for farming in learned through experiences. By giving the up and coming farmers the lessons learned from experience are priceless.

I think that it is extremely important to be encouraging youth to stay in this industry and keep their passion directed into the farming community. Although there are hard days, there are incredibly rewarding days as well. By promoting the lifestyle and importance of this profession, younger generations may feel more motivated to farm.

Support is unique to each person and how they feel it looks. To me, support is aiding where needed, providing guidance and encouragement. Providing younger generations with someone to lean on when times get tough or they are unsure of where to go next is where I feel the most support of older generations should come in. Being that mentor and number to call is how I feel this generation should be supporting young farmers.

7. What are three things that we could start doing now that could get us to a culture in agriculture where every producer is supported in taking care of their mental wellbeing?

7. 1) Mental health first aid training. This is a simple way to show your support for the cause as well as become more aware of how to assist those who are suffering.

2) Opening lines for communication. This means connecting with those who you may not interact with on an everyday basis. This could be through a text message or phone call. A small gesture can go a long way.

3) Loving your neighbour. The agriculture industry is very dependent upon relationships. Establishing a strong and positive relationship with those around you and within the industry is critical. These are the people that you can lean on and that you will be there for. The relationships established help in generating a support network that can be mutually beneficial.

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