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New Canadian organization supporting farmer mental health

New Canadian organization supporting farmer mental health

The Canadian Centre for Agricultural Wellbeing is a research to action organization

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Mental health researchers and professionals working with and in Canada’s agricultural sector have launched a new organization.

Dr. Briana Hagen, co-creator of In the Know, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s mental health literacy program; Deborah Vanberkel, a dairy farmer and founder of the Farmer Wellness Program; and Marnie Wood, a dairy farmer and registered psychotherapist, will lead the Canadian Centre for Agricultural Wellbeing (CCAW).

Dr. Hagen is the organization’s CEO and lead scientist. Vanberkel is the CCAW’s chief programming officer and Wood is the chief operating officer.

This national organization allows researchers from across the country to understand the work one another are doing, said Wood.

Dr. Rebecca Purc-Stephenson, for example, is working in Alberta in agriculture mental health,” Wood told “It’s important that there’s a conversation happening so everyone knows what’s happening and researchers can fill in the gaps.”

In addition, the CCAW will focus on programming.

This includes engaging with producers to identify what supports the community needs.

“We go to the farmer first to see what they need,” Wood said. “As opposed to having one more organization telling farmers what they need. That’s pretty fundamental to the work we’re doing.”

The CCAW is starting with three initiatives.

The first one is an In the Know expansion and update.

This is going to focus on bringing mental health literacy into post-secondary schools, Wood said.

“We want to take a preventative approach to mental wellbeing in the farming community, and we’re starting with agricultural students,” she said. “We want to target youth to get ahead of mental health.”

Another item the CCAW is working on is a catastrophic event toolkit.

The toolkit is based on the emergency-response model developed by Dr. Hagen and Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton.

“It’s an on-the-ground response for mental health professionals when disease breaks out or if there’s a climate crisis,” Wood said. “We want a program that can be launched within that community to support people like farmers or workers coming in to destroy animals.”

And the third item currently in the works for the CCAW is a symposium on mental health in agriculture.

CCAW will co-host the national online event in March with the Guardian Network, a suicide prevention program that Wood is also the program manager for.

“It’s going to be virtual for the first year and is going to be a great connector,” Wood said. “We want to include farmers in our discussions, we’ll have researchers, federal and provincial government officials, and multiple concurrent sessions. There’s excellent work going on around the country and we want to use that to do the best we can for Canadian farmers.”

If you or someone you know requires mental health support, has compiled a list of mental health and suicide prevention resources.

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