A Champion of Agricultural Mental Health

Agricultural mental health professional, Deborah Vanberkel.

Xplornet customer, Deborah Vanberkel’s Farmer Wellness Program is bridging the mental health gap in the farming community where she lives in rural Ontario. As a farmer herself, she knows first-hand that there are barriers to agricultural mental health assistance.

“I wanted to be able to tailor services to a population that didn’t have them. There’s really no programs dedicated to the agriculture industry so I wanted to see if I could do something,” she said.

Deborah says that the stigma attached to mental health is even more prevalent within farming communities.

“There was a study by Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and Dr. Briana Hagen of the University of Guelph that says 40% of farmers don’t seek mental health services due to the stigma of what people might think,” Deborah explained.

She has been given national recognition as the winner of this year’s Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s Brigid Rivoire Award for Champions of Agricultural Mental Health.

After 15 years as a counsellor, she approached the Lennox and Addington Federation of Agriculture with the goal of creating a program with flexible wait times so that farmers could access a counsellor immediately when they need it.

Now they can get help when it’s convenient for them, like before or after chores, and because the program is funded by the federation, farmers can get four sessions at no cost.

“I can provide services on the farm, at their house, in the office, virtually, or over the phone,” Deborah said.

She has been an Xplornet customer for 7 years and her Internet connection has been essential for seeing clients from home.

“It has been very beneficial with the pandemic because I’ve been able to see people virtually,” she said.

Deborah says that the Internet has also been handy for attending virtual conferences from home, for homeschooling, and for staying connected to family.

“We’re fortunate because there’s a tower not that far from here,” she said, “Being able to connect with people virtually has been a huge asset. It’s so nice to be able to ensure we can see each other’s faces.”

If you or a loved one is looking for help, the Farmer Wellness Program is now offered in Lennox and Addington, Hastings, Prince Edward, Northumberland, and Lanark Counties in Ontario.

Click here for more information.