Seed World

Matt Kelly Changes Lives by Talking About Mental Health

Matt Kelly with son Copeland.

The following article appeared in our sister publication, Germination, who has been publishing articles about Canada’s Do More Agriculture Foundation, formed to advance the mental health conversation in Canada’s farming community.

Eleven months ago, farmer and seed grower Matt Kelly and his wife Lesley used the internet to change the conversation around mental health in the farming community.

One evening in June of 2017, they took 25 minutes to speak to the world live from their dining room table about their mental health journeys. Both spoke openly and honestly about their struggles with anxiety and depression, and Matt says he didn’t realize what a life-changing experience it would be for himself and others.

“My phone just lit up with people wanting to touch base and say that they deal with mental health issues too,” says Matt, whose farm is based in Watrous, Sask.

“It was a simple conversation but helped to really normalize the conversation about mental health in agriculture. I guess it helped people realize there’s nothing wrong with you if you go through that. By someone stepping up and saying, ‘This is my struggle,’ it encourages other people to speak out as well.”

Since the video aired, it’s received almost 12,000 views and Matt’s story of dealing with fatigue, isolation and stress has resonated with people in the farming community and beyond and led to a renewed conversation about mental health in agriculture. Lesley has since become one of the co-founders of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, formed to advance the mental health conversation in Canada’s farming community. Matt’s story also caught the attention of the media, and Matt, 40, has since taken part in Bell Let’s Talk Day to help spread the message of how important it is to talk openly about mental health.

“It’s been really eye-opening and humbling to not only have close family and friends supporting me through this journey, but a lot of people have reached out for support saying, ‘If you ever need to talk, we’re available.’ More importantly though, a lot of people are now saying, ‘Me too. I’ve struggled and it’s great that we’re finally talking about it.”

Like all farmers, Matt deals with a variety of factors that can take a toll on one’s health. Although his farm is located in Watrous, he and his family live two hours away, in Regina. During farming season, he spends a lot of time alone on the farm in his trailer, separated from loved ones. That isolation, combined with the sleep deprivation and day-to-day stresses so common to farming, eventually came to a head for him, and he began his recovery journey by calling a rural farm stress line and talking to a professional.

“There’s answers out there and you’re not alone — you have to push through and know there’s always a positive side to everything. That’s what I want people to know,” he says.

The statistics paint a disquieting picture of just how serious an issue mental illness is in the ag community. Farmers are among the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health, according to a 2016 study from the University of Guelph. Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and burnout are all higher among farmers than among other groups, the survey shows.

As well, Canadian farmers are more stressed than those living and working elsewhere. The survey found 45 per cent of survey respondents had high stress. Another 58 per cent were classified with varying levels of anxiety, and 35 per cent struggled with clinical depression.

But thanks to people like Matt, there are more tools available every day. Rural farm stress lines and organizations like the Do More Agriculture Foundation point people to resources that can help them deal with mental health issues proactively. For Matt, making change is as simple as talking about what you’re going through.

“I’m just one voice in the crowd saying it’s okay to speak out. Momentum is building, and if I’ve had a small part in making that happen, that’s great,” he adds.

Click the screenshot below to watch Matt and Lesley Kelly’s original live video about their mental health journey.