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Sask. farmer developing mental health course

Sask. farmer developing mental health course

Cynthia Beck is also a master’s student in clinical psychology at the University of Regina

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A Milestone, Sask. producer is combining her life as a farmer and work as a researcher to help members of the province’s ag community facing mental health challenges.

Cynthia Beck, who raises grains, oilseeds and cattle with her husband and his family, is also a master’s student in clinical psychology at the University of Regina.

She’s offering an online mental health course this summer to help people in the agriculture sector. Partly because she knows how difficult accessing quality mental health support can be.

“I’ve seen the difficulties producers have experienced in trying to get help that is beneficial,” she told “Part of the frustration among ag producers is that we feel like we’re paying to train the therapist instead of them helping us. “And it became even more apparent when I myself needed mental health support. When I did reach a state where things could get really bad, the help was really ineffective because clinicians don’t know what farming life is like. We can’t just take two weeks off during harvest.”

One reason for offering an online course is because data indicates people respond better to online support compared to traditional in-person therapy.

“Lots of people think they need face-to-face therapy, but when they participate in an online therapy, their outcomes are actually better at one-year post treatment than they are with cognitive behaviour therapy,” Beck said. “We think part of it is people recognizing that they’re the person doing the work and attribute their success to themselves.”

Beck’s Wellbeing Course is being offered through the Online Therapy Unit at the university, created by her supervisor, Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos.

Australian researchers originally created the Wellbeing Course. Dr. Hadjistavropoulos modified it to fit the Canadian population and Beck is adding to it further by including ag content.

“I’ve created this large agricultural terminology library so if a farmer is emailing or on the phone and they’re talking about something, the therapist can search the terminology and recognize the stressors associated with that,” Beck said. “And people who take the course will receive access to an agricultural mental health resource I designed.”

The resource identifies how to use tools learned in the Wellbeing Course in everyday farming life.

The resource based off the thoughts, feelings and behaviour triangle, also referred to as the cognitive triangle.

Cognitive triangle

“If we have an ag producer who is thinking to himself or herself it’s never going to rain, my crops will never grow and I’m going to lose the farm, that kind of thinking affects people’s emotions and then affects their behaviour,” Beck said. “By having a resource that reflects real ag life, someone may look at it and recognize they do some things that indicates mental health challenges.”

The five-lesson, eight-week course is funded in part by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health and therefore only open to Saskatchewan farmers at this time.

Interested producers, however, will go through a thorough screening process before receiving access the course materials.

“The questionnaires help us capture a person’s history,” Beck said. “Then a telephone follow-up is scheduled, and a screener will contact the individual and ask any additional questions that come up. And let’s say a person has been hospitalized for a suicide attempt, then our course is not a good fit for them and they need face-to-face support. And our program will identify that.”

Once the program has been deemed a good fit for an individual, he or she will receive their login information.

Farmers accepted to the course will fill out the same questionnaires upon its completion.

Those results will be compared to members of the general public who took the Wellbeing Course.

“If the research is done well and depending on what we find, if (internet therapy) is effective for farmers, we’ll find they won’t have that much difference compared to the general population in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms,” Beck said.

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