Farm Women Take Action on Mental Health Needs

Article excerpt

The Ontario Farm Women's Network (OFWN) is an umbrella group linking many farm women's organizations which share a vision of a vibrant agricultural industry and active family farms.

MENTAL HEALTH OF FARM FAMILIES In.1991 the OFWN, through its president Donna Lunn, approached the University School of Rural Planning and Development (USRPD) at the University of Guelph, Ontario, requesting information relating to the provision of services to farm families in Ontario, and ways of improving services and establishing new and needed ones. At that time, the concerns of the OFWN were broad and undefined, ranging from medical and mental health services to libraries; transportation, seniors outreach, recreational services, rural child care, and continuing education. Two meetings between graduate students and faculty of USRPD and members of the OFWN Board revealed that the major concern of the board and its constituents was the impact of the crisis in the agricultural industry on the mental health of farm families. The board identified mental health as a priority service that was lacking in their region.

The project Farm Families: A Voice of Needs was the result. It consisted of * A brief history of the OFWN;

* An inventory of mental health services in Ontario;

* A workbook for conducting community based needs assessments; and

* A summary linking the inventory with the needs assessment workbook.

The Mental Health Inventory begins with a definition of mental health and a section on mental health needs in rural areas. It identifies some of the glaring gaps in rural mental health service provision. The inventory charts the provincial government ministries which have responsibility for mental health policies and programs. At the local level, District Health Councils determine which services will be provided, and communicate that information to the appropriate provincial ministry in funding applications. It is, therefore, essential that the voice of farm families be heard on District Health Councils. The inventory also includes various non-governmental organizations which service rural areas in Ontario with a description of the service and the name of a contact person.

The Community-Based Needs Assessment Workbook provides six different methods a community can use to assess its own needs. The workbook explains what a needs assessment is and gives community groups a choice of step-by-step processes for conducting their own needs assessment. Groups can select the most appropriate technique given their objectives, their own skill level, and the size and complexity of their organization or of the problem they perceive. The focus of each method links assessment to action. An advocacy group like the OFWN can encourage member organizations to undertake their own needs assessment in a low cost, efficient fashion by using this workbook. …