Mental health on the farm – trends seen by a social worker turned farm advisor

Michele Van Beers worked as a social worker in rural ontario for 30 years before switching into accounting. AWN writer Maggie McCormick had the opportunity to connect with her regarding mental health trends and concerns in Ontario.

michele_2Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

I grew up in a very large blended family on the outskirts of Strathroy. Both of my parents operated small businesses my father being a home builder and my mother owning a daycare centre, as well as eventually operating a veal calf farm. As with most rural families we were actively involved in all aspects of our own operation, in addition to being employed as farm labour within our community.

My first career path took me into the social service sector. I worked for almost 30 years in this field, beginning as support staff in residential programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, and then transitioning into the mental health sector. I worked front line for many years assisting people who identified as having mental health needs when they faced crisis’s and transitions in their lives. Over the years, I was able to develop my skills, build my education and seize opportunities which enabled me to work in senior management positions in the not-for-profit sector.

I am currently tackling my second tax season with Farm Business Consultants as a Local Tax Consultant (LTC) out of the London office. Being a local tax consultant is about building relationships and assisting people to not only meet their mandatory reporting requirements, but also assist them through foreseen and unforeseen transitions for their businesses and in their lives. All members are at different stages of development, growth, redesign, decline and/ or retirement from their businesses and sometimes life circumstances cause them to have to make hard and sometime exciting decisions. I really thrive on being part of their network of support and a trusted advisor to aide in their decision making.

What’s the biggest professional/personal challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?

2014 was a significant year of change for me, I was at a major crossroads with my career. I identified and seized an opportunity that had presented itself to me. I decided I was going to move out of the not for profit sector, and find avenues to apply my skills and unique learning experience in the corporate world. Going back to school was a significant undertaking, this at a time that I was also becoming a first time grandmother. I choose Business Administration – Accounting as my focus, as I believed that this program would round out my skill set and be beneficial in my next role. Graduating, I felt ready to apply my life and educational learning to a new role.

michele_1How do you define personal success?

To put it simply, for me being a success means that I am a part of a thriving family, I am an active member of a supportive community and I have a rewarding and respected professional career.

Who is (or has been) your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

I am a big supporter of building a mentorship network and have embraced the opportunity whenever I have been able to. I have found it best for me to have diversity in the people to advise me and it is vital to continue to nurture these relationships. I have had the benefit of some very strong relationships with mentors over the years and as a result the mentorship has become reciprocal, which I have found to be very rewarding. I use these relationships and learnings to build my personal value statements which in turn guides my day to day decision making.

Learning from our mistakes is an important, but sometimes tough, part of life. In the spirit of these profiles helping others, are you willing to share a mistake you made but taught you something important?

For me personally, the mistakes I have learned from the most relate to balancing my responsibilities as an employee, a wife and as a parent, and forgetting at times to place emphasis to my own self-care.  I recall a time when my children were very small, I decided that I would work full-time overnights. My thinking at the time was this way I could engage in my children’s activities and school life, be the mom I wanted to be, I could still be a beneficial member of my work team and a success in my job, as well as financially contributing to my household at an equal level. The piece I didn’t emphasize was when I was going to sleep. I can laugh about it now, but following a year at this pace my house of cards crashed. I was exhausted and picking up the pieces was very difficult. I would like to say I never made that mistake again, but that is not true. What I can say is the challenge of the balance continued but with each new challenge and each decision made, I was better able to recognize when issues were arising and adjust the goal or plan as needed. I never again let things get that far out of balance for my family or for myself.

How can the agriculture industry build more resilient communities, and support those who may have mental health concerns?

I think we need to reframe how we look at the issue of mental health altogether. Society as a whole I believe, thinks of mental health as mental illness. They think of it as a sudden illness which you might be diagnosed with, perhaps receive treatment for and then it is managed and/or you’re better. However, what I believe to be true is that all of us experience our mental health on a continuum that shifts and moves based on what is happening in our lives and how we are equipped to deal with our circumstances. Two people experiencing the exact set of circumstances, but with different tools and support networks in place will manage their circumstances very differently and therefore the effect on their Mental Health will be vastly different. 

I believe the key to maintaining balance on the continuum in your mental health is in building your self-awareness and coping skills and to develop your personal network of supports. This is what makes you resilient to the impacts of stressors in your life. A network of resilient individuals who seek and offer support within their community are able to build and maintain a resilient community.

I believe that for the agriculture industry there are three main barriers to this development. First would be the personal isolation that is inherent to many in their roles. Many agriculture roles are remote and isolated, and although this is a part of the draw for pursuing this career it can also be a disadvantage when stressors happen and accessing appropriate supports. The second barrier to overcome is the demands of the roles themselves. People pursuing careers in a lot of traditional agriculture roles don’t work a standard 40 hours a week. They juggle many pressures and may not feel they are in a position to prioritize building their mental health resiliency. The third barrier I would identify would be the issue of stigma and perceptions of mental health in our communities. When we can get to the point that we can openly discuss plans to manage our own anxiety or depression as easily as I can discuss managing my diet because I am diabetic, we will be able to make real progress in this area 

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?

I believe one of the most important issues in agriculture right now is the sustainability of it as a family based business. The desire to have an agriculture lifestyle and to raise families this way is becoming unattainable. The family demographics, financial resources required and business management skill requirements are all factors that are rapidly changing, and I wonder if the industry is prepared for assisting individuals to get ahead of this development curve in order to prepare for it. We can see that the large-scale operations are thriving, but when I speak with people individually they are concerned with the entire agriculture industry changing to be corporately run, and many are asking is this really what we want in the long run. 

Recognizing an Invisible Illness and Finding Help on the Farm

farming-couple-tackles-mental-wellness-togetherJoe and Mary Ann have been together for 17 years, they met when they were 18 and 16 respectively.  Six years ago they joined Mary Ann’s brother Graham and her parents partnership and moved the cows to a new location after building a dairy barn.  This is their recollection of what it has been like for them dealing with anxiety, depression and mood disorder.      


I’ve always been this way. For as long as I can remember I’ve been easy to please but quick to anger. I’ve been aware of my talents but quick to deflate and take the blame. I can work hours on end without sleep some days but others I can’t seem to gather up enough energy to get off the couch.

In high school, a fiery temper is maybe a necessary evil when you’re as small as I was. Going off at the slightest little thing could just be considered typical teenage behavior. I never worried about it much.

In college I was surrounded by like-minded people and those years were fantastic. The stress was always fun, my physical health was good and the support structure of friends and family was plentiful and strong. I met Mary Ann in these years and although we lived far apart, our relationship was strong and provided another source of stability and comfort.

Shortly after college, our family suffered a big shock. My aunt passed away at the age of 38 after a lifetime battle with Crohn’s disease and Colitis, her mother (my step-grandmother) passed away during a brain tumor biopsy the very next day. As she had been preparing to go under the knife, my step-father (her son and the brother of my aunt) suffered a massive intestinal hemorrhage and was rushed to the ICU: the same ICU his mum was in after the unsuccessful biopsy.

This series of events was the trigger for my first ever “panic attack”. Around lunch time on the second day, our family was reeling with the loss of my aunt the day before, nervous about my grandmother’s upcoming biopsy and completely in the dark regarding my step-father’s condition as he was still being stabilized at the time. A phone call – one that seemed to take an eternity – confirmed that my grandmother had passed away during the biopsy. Unfortunately, there was no news regarding my step-father. The news hit everyone like a punch to the chest and the added uncertainty about my step-dad was making the whole thing worse. I remember realizing that I had not eaten in at least a day and decided I should make some sandwiches for everyone while we still had a chance to eat before heading to the hospital again. I opened the fridge, grabbed the jar of mayonnaise and suddenly lost my grip. The jar fell to the tiled floor and shattered a hundred different ways. I lost all my senses. I fell to the ground, I couldn’t breathe, I cried and gasped for air, I balled up on the floor and I couldn’t move. I remember losing part of my vision – almost like fainting but never going completely “out”. After that, I don’t remember much until being in the car, heading back to the hospital. This was the first time, to my knowledge, that my mind had real, measurable and observable physical effects on my body. At the time, I simply chalked it up to the crazy stressful time we were going through and carried on, never thinking much about it afterward. My step-dad recovered, we celebrated the lives of my aunt and grandmother and life went on.

At the time, I simply chalked it up to the crazy stressful time we were going through and carried on, never thinking much about it afterward.

In university, I was my usual self. I would work hard, have mostly great days and feel relatively normal. I lived with my uncle and aunt for 2 years, then with Mary Ann for 2 years. I don’t remember ever being in a funk during those years. I do remember smashing some tools after being robbed once. I remember lifting our couch in rage after our cat did something stupid. I remember lots of typical “Doré behavior” as my family likes to call it. Never really thought there was anything wrong at the time. Looking back on it now, it feels a little different.

Fast-forward a few years and Mary Ann and I have joined the family dairy business. With 4 years of dairy equipment installation and barn layout experience under my belt, we decide that I will be the general contractor for the construction of our new dairy barn. The project is a tough winter build that moves along very smoothly. With Mary Ann and me onsite 7 days a week and able to work nights while her family continues to manage the dairy herd at the home farm, we tackle prep-work and clean up in the evenings, we work alongside the various crews all day long and we do all our own welding from end to end. The cows move in to their new home on schedule and we begin the process of learning the ropes in the new barn.

I received a phone call from the township office one day which triggered my second mental/physical attack. As far as they were concerned, no plumbing fixtures of any kind should be in the barn unless they drain to an approved septic system. This was news to me – as far as we were told, everything in a dairy barn, except a toilet (which we never had) was to drain to the manure pit. When I explained that the cows were in and the barn had long been completed, I vaguely remember something along the lines of “well, let’s hope you don’t have to change much”. With the threat of tearing apart everything with a drain on the horizon, I quickly fell into a depression where I blamed only myself for not having this sorted out and letting it get beyond the point of no return. I tried to tell myself that it was no big deal and that everything would work out. Mary Ann and her family all did their best to ease my worries but my mind was stronger than any of that and I wasn’t able to get out of bed for two days. I shook, I didn’t eat, I slept for hours on end and when I did get up I couldn’t be bothered to do anything productive. This was the first time I realized that something wasn’t right. As we expected, everything worked out in the end and life went on. The attack was just another blip in the past.

A few years into being in the new barn, things were not going great. Cows were getting sick more than we’d hoped, our bedding system was breaking down more than we’d planned on and gutters were constantly plugged. We were spending hours and hours each day, trying to keep the barn operating, all the while struggling with sick cows. As things got tough, Mary Ann and Graham would always find the positive in the situation, put their heads down and keep working and tackling problems. In the meantime, I would get more aggravated, slam more doors, throw more stuff and generally break more inanimate objects than anyone ever should.

When I asked what she meant, since I wasn’t sick or upset about anything, she said “you seem sad”.

Within a few days, there were two events that led me to take the first steps to getting help. The first was my daughter, who was only two years old at the time, when she and I walked hand-in-hand to the house one evening and she simply said, “Papa, what’s wrong?” When I asked what she meant, since I wasn’t sick or upset about anything, she said “you seem sad”. A day or two later, we ended up with another sick cow at the barn and I couldn’t take it anymore. I slammed some doors, swore a blue streak and left the barn yelling at whoever was nearby. By the time I got to the house I realized that I needed help before I hurt someone.

Mary Ann and I tried to find phone numbers and couldn’t really figure out who to call. We decided that calling the doctor was probably a good first step. After all, if I had pneumonia we wouldn’t think twice about calling them.

We are incredibly fortunate to belong to a fantastic Family Health Team. I first met with our family doctor who did an initial assessment with me. He and the nurses supported my decision to call in and make the appointment. The doctor quickly diagnosed me with mood disorder, anxiety and depression and suggested daily Omega-3 to help suppress depression and improve cognitive function while he went through the referral process and found me a psychiatrist to confirm his diagnosis, which was expected to take several months. The Family Health Team offers complimentary counselling sessions with an in-house counsellor so I was able to access counselling within just a few weeks of my initial assessment. Those sessions helped me find ways to alleviate anxiety, concentrate and curb my mood swings.

Three months after my first visit with the family doctor, I had my first appointment with the psychiatrist. He was located 100km away in Toronto and our appointment took place via OTN, Ontario’s telemedicine network. Via teleconference, we were able to meet and he was able to confirm our family doctor’s diagnosis and prescribe a set of medications that he thought would be a good fit.

The first few weeks were tough. Medication was introduced slowly and as the dosage increased I began to notice significant changes. My mood became far more stable but I became so drowsy that I couldn’t function. I could almost fall asleep standing up, I couldn’t drive and I certainly couldn’t operate farm equipment in that state. I discontinued the medication that I believed at fault, continued with the other medication, confirmed the changes with the psychiatrist via email and the improvements were quick.

I was able to focus, concentrate, work without losing my cool, be a better co-worker, be a better dad, and be a better husband.

I’ve now been on the same medication for 18 months and I feel fantastic. The barn challenged us with more sick cows last winter and while always feeling like myself, I was able to focus, concentrate, work without losing my cool, be a better co-worker, be a better dad, and be a better husband. The medication is a tool that has worked for me and with regular follow-ups it continues to be a safe and effective way of maintaining a healthy mind.

I am eternally grateful for Mary Ann’s understanding and willingness to help me, for the friends and family that support us in all that we do and for the doctors who treated me with dignity and compassion for an invisible illness.

Mary Ann:

Everyone was frustrated and angry about the cows being sick, frustrated about losing money, frustrated that we were failing, but my husband seemed to take the full weight of our troubles onto his shoulders.  If he was in a bad mood, nothing I could say would be able to cheer him up.  He was never angry towards me or the rest of the family, but would just be so mad some days.  I would worry when something else bad happened, fearing how he would react.  I would put a lot of effort into trying to hide as many problems from him as I could.  I was beginning to feel that I had to constantly be ‘up’ to balance him being so down.  Many days, I wanted to rant and be angry too but I bottled it up not wanting to add to his worry.  The morning I finally reached for my phone to look for help for Joe was when he went to take a breather and didn’t come back for an hour made me realize we couldn’t continue to live like this.

Her saying to him “you have anxiety, and it will be okay” did wonders for him, having a professional opinion relieved worries that I was unable to soothe.

Making that first step to call the Doctors was huge for Joe; I noticed a huge difference in him after he came back from his first session with a counselor.  Her saying to him “you have anxiety, and it will be okay” did wonders for him, having a professional opinion relieved worries that I was unable to soothe.  I am so thankful for our Doctor’s office, to our families, and our friends for being so comforting and understanding.  I also really appreciated the support of family and friends who would ask me how I am doing, knowing how stressful it can be in a supportive role.

Watching someone so close to me go through this is an eye opener.  Joe was open to me about his feelings throughout, but I could not begin to understand what he experiencing; this was not a problem that we were able to solve on our own.  

I am filled with such hope and love reading stories of people sharing their mental health struggles, letting those suffering in silence know that they are not alone.  There is so much more information available now compared to just three years ago, initiatives like the study at the University of Guelph reaching out to the farming community, and #BellLetsTalk are working; keep sharing, someone who needs it is listening.     


Mental Health Week – Jan 24th – 28th

Mental Health is perhaps one of the most misunderstood streams of healthcare. For years it was brushed aside as a non-issue. Over the last half of the 20th and into the 21st century, healthcare providers and mental health advocates have brought the overall dangers of mental illness and the positive impact of maintaining mental wellness. At AWN, we are strong advocates for mental wellness. We believe that helping women achive mental health and reducing stigma around mental illness help to promote not only women but all of agriculture. Over the course of the next week, we will be exploring what defines mental health, some tip and tricks for achieving mental wellness as well as hear stories of women and their experience with mental health. We welcome all members to share their experiences and we encourage positive discussion on this topic.

We will kick off the week by joining in the conversation with #Bellletstalk on Wednesday January 25th.

The Bell Let’s Talk initiative is powerful in two ways

    Firstly, for every text, tweet, video share, snapchat, call, and instagram using the #bellletstalk hastag Bell will donate 5cents towards mental health initiatives. Bell created the Bell Let’s Talk Community fund which is the largest corporate mental health initiative in Canada and funds go directly into communities for mental health promotion and mental illness treatment programs. If you want to learn more about Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund or how you can get involved please visit their website.
    The second way Bell Let’s talk help is by reducing the stigma around mental illness and helps to promote awareness around not only mental illness but also mental health. Bell has partner with serveral celebrities and athletes who have experience mental health crisis or illness who have shared their story. The stigma around mental illness can be the main hurdle for` someone experiencing mental illness and getting help
    AWN will be posting and tweeting throughout the day sharing stories from women. We hope that you will join in and please feel welcome and safe to share your own experience with mental health.


Social connections keep farm woman grounded – Producer Profile – Mariette Bardoel

Mariette Bardoel credits her support group of friends with helping to see her through the tough times

By Courtney Denard

When Mariette Bardoel was just 19 years old she boarded a plane and flew almost 5,700 kilometres to a new and unknown life in a far off country.

14825777_10154846865158814_416639743_nThe daughter of dairy farming parents, Mariette grew up in the province of Noord Brabant in the Netherlands with her four siblings.   

She spent her childhood working in the barn alongside her family, doing chores and tending to her pony.

When Mariette was a teenager she met the man who would eventually become her husband.

His name was Wim and he was the reason Mariette decided to leave the only home she had ever known and start a new life in Ontario.

The move took place in 1984 and it didn’t come without challenge.

Wim had already been in Canada working on a farm for a year before Mariette could join him through a work visa to become a nanny.

“It was the only way to get in,” Mariette explains.

The young couple spent the next two years living closer in proximity but still apart as Mariette’s job was in Manotick and Wim’s was in Navan.

They’d see each other on weekends and this gave Mariette time to settle into her role as a caregiver and to learn English.

Learning a new language was one of the biggest fears Mariette had about relocating but she says working with children made it less daunting.

“You’re not as afraid to make a mistake when you talk and they tell you when you’re wrong,” she says.

In 1986, Wim received his landed immigrant papers and with that came big changes.

Mariette and Wim relocated to Park Hill, got married in a civil ceremony, and eventually held a second wedding back in Holland with family and friends.

On April 1, 1987, the newlyweds began renting a dairy farm in Ingersoll from Wim’s uncle and two years later they took over full ownership.

“We started that farm with 34 cows and four heifers,” says Mariette. “There wasn’t enough security for the bank to give us a lot of money.”

The couple also added children to the mix- a daughter Joyce in 1988 and a son Michael in 1990.

“Money was tight” in the early years so Mariette says she wasn’t able to see her family back in Holland as much as she would have liked.

“There would be events back home that you wanted to be at but it just wasn’t possible. There were times of homesickness. It was hard,” she says.

Craving connection, Mariette joined Oxford Women for the Support of Agriculture, a local association that offers networking and education to women.

Her role within the association has changed over time but she continues to be an active member today and encourages all women in agriculture to find a group of their own.

14572989_10154846864153814_3170294187492908407_nIn 2011, Mariette found herself amongst another life altering change when her husband and partner in farming passed away suddenly at the age of 48.

In a blink of an eye, Mariette says, “there were a lot of decisions I now had to make on my own.”

If it wasn’t for certain key factors like life insurance, a dual will, and most importantly a supportive group of family and friends, Mariette says she doesn’t know if she would still be standing.

Mariette continues to have a role on the farm today although it’s a little different than it was even five years ago.

While her son Mike is managing the business along with his wife Hilary, Mariette is responsible for feeding calves, milking every other weekend, and filling in when needed.

Mike and Hilary will eventually take over the farm and a succession plan is underway.

Throughout it all, Mariette says having a strong social connection has remained very important to her and this is one of the reasons she joined the Ag Women’s Network.

“Even if it’s not in person you can bounce off ideas and ask questions,” she says speaking about the AWN’s Facebook group.

“Something like this wasn’t there when I was starting out. There are more options for women in ag to be involved without being away from the farm,” she adds.

Being a member of AWN has also given Mariette “something to learn about.”

It keeps her on pulse of what’s happening in the agriculture sector and up to date on relevant articles in the news.

When she’s not working in the barn or connecting with her networks, Mariette can be found out in nature with yet another group of women whom she has been hiking with since 2005.

“There are 11 of us and we hike a couple of times per year. Two have lost their husband and one has gone through cancer so we talk about our problems and it’s really good to be together,” she says.

Mariette has some serious kilometres to her credit.

She’s hiked the entire Bruce Trail, the Avon Trail, the Elgin Trail, the Tour de Mont Blanc in Switzerland, and the Inca Trail in Peru. Together that’s 1,249 kilometres.

Mariette has no plans of slowing down either! She says she’s just started the Grand Valley Trail and when that’s done she’ll do another.

Industry Profile -Nadine Gill talks success, mental health, and having it all

After graduating with a B.A. from Trent University, Nadine Gill took some time to work on a sow operation in Ohio with her father. It was there she realized her connection with pigs, and her rekindled interest in agriculture. She now works for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture as a Member Service Support Representative but can also be found working on-call at a swine operation or in the fields exploring her new cropping skills.

If you’re interested in connecting with Nadine, contact her via Instagram:, Twitter: or Facebook:

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career path.

13288375_10100384787740272_1169091909_oMy name is Nadine Gill and I live in the lovely Niagara Region with my partner on his family’s grain and oilseed operation with our two dogs. I’ve spent a fair amount of my working life in the customer service industry and have experience in a variety of agriculture businesses: swine, crops, dairy, and greenhouse flowers to name a few.

Tell us about your two current roles.

I started working for the OFA in July 2014, as the Member Service Support Representative for South-Western Ontario. I love the variety my position allows, as I not only oversee many of the major provincial farm and trade shows, but assist my co-workers in OFA’s Guelph head office and their respective counties. My position allows for much variety in my day-to-day tasks and I am able to travel all over SW Ontario, which I love! I also work with the Stein family at their batch farrowing operation in Haldimand County as on-call help. This typically means I am in the barn once a month, or less, doing whatever task needs to be completed. I feel the most comfortable in farrowing, but have experience in breeding and nursery due to my previous employment in the swine industry. Recently, I became more involved in my partner’s family farm. Although crops have not quite caught my interest to the extent that livestock agriculture has, I have come to appreciate and enjoy this side of agriculture. In fact, I worked my first 500 acres over Victoria Day weekend! I am hoping to learn more about the business and slowly make my way into being a more active participant on the family farm.

How do you define personal success? What steps do you take to get there?

I define my personal success based on continued growth, the ability to learn, and feeling as though I have “given back” to the community. I do this by taking the time to read an hour or so every week on a topic I know little about. I reflect on what I have learnt on a monthly basis. I also volunteer in my local community and try to spread awareness of Ontario agriculture. I am lucky that my career aids me in shaping and achieving my personal success, specifically in that the work I do gives back to the agricultural community.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face? And what did you learn from that experience?

I’ve recently been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder, which is a constant challenge as someone who is often in social settings with my OFA role. Acknowledging when I am reaching my threshold and being able to say so is something I am starting to feel more comfortable doing. I no longer feel guilty telling someone that I can only do so much, whether that is in my personal or professional life. Realizing that I cannot “do it all and then some” is very hard to admit, especially when our industry, at times, seems to pride itself on doing it all; also, being very straightforward about my threshold for certain things and realizing what works for me. Self-reflection has helped immensely in this regard. I am still learning to cope with my anxiety in everyday settings, but in the process I am learning more about myself.

Who would say is your biggest influencer/mentor? What have you learned from them?

I wouldn’t say I’ve had one particular person who has influence me more than others. If anything, I’ve found different mentorship at different points my life. I try to surround myself with people who bring me up and aid me in progressing as a person. Longest running, however, would be my parents. My Dad’s shown me how hard work, dedication, and self-teaching can bring one to realize their dreams, even if everyone is telling you that you can’t. He’s a very ambitious and resilient person who has really illustrated to me how important general business sense is in agriculture. My Mom is also very resilient. She is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve encountered. She’s a true nurturer and always seems to find great teaching moments in the every day. Many of my morals are a direct representation of her guidance.

What’s the most burning question for you right now in your career?

Balance seems to be a key issue for me. I have realized that I have a tendency to spread myself too thin, which makes me a bit apprehensive for any major life events/changes that may occur in the future. An AWN seminar at FarmSmart in late January this year (featuring Deb Campbell and Sandi Brock) really put it all into perspective and resonated with me. Realizing that I can do everything I want to, even though it means making some sacrifices, has helped. It would be interesting to see what other women in agriculture have done in adapting to be that “2000s working mom” they described. Also, I’m interested in the networking aspect of AWN. I’d love to see more informal social events!

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now?

Miscommunication between agriculture and the world. It is not just the everyday person who may think their milk comes from the grocery shelf, but the people who are making legislative decisions for this industry need to be addressed. Any outreach to share our agricultural knowledge is valuable and will aid the industry in its longevity and sustainability in this province.

Rural Counselling & Mental Health Support Services

This week the Ag Women’s Network is focusing on mental health. There has been lots of discussion on social media and in the media about ending the stigma attached to mental health, so people can find the courage to get the help they need. Canadians set a new record, with over 125 million texts, tweets and shares, raising over $6.2 million for mental health on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day on Wednesday.

Farmers and members of the agriculture industry were actively a part of this as mental illness doesn’t discriminate on gender and rural men are particularly susceptible. 

It is only logical then we focus today’s post on the resources available to help.


After hearing her incredible story, Clara Hughes encouraged us to offer to listen more.

In the simplest of cases, taking action to reduce stress and talking to a close friend or family member can help to minimize anxiety. For me, when I realized I was struggling I turned to friends who encouraged me to consult the resources offered by my employer. Here I found some good information on mental illness, as well as access to a counselor through an online chat and the phone.

Often these services are available not just for employees but also their families, so check with your HR department to learn what assistance your company offers.

Mental Health Services & Counselling for Farmers

Unfortunately, professional help isn’t so easy to find when you’re self-employed, like a farmer, or in a rural area. It’s been mentioned in a couple articles we shared this week (here and here) and echoed by members.

“Accessing help wasn’t easy. I had a choice of driving an hour or go on a year wait list.” Tweeted Sarah Jackson about her struggle. Other members echoed this challenge of finding a public health therapist they liked and didn’t have to wait to talk too.

With the adoption of the Internet, you’d think we’d be further along than we are in offering online support services. A CTV News story about e-health opportunities only speaks to the potential and doesn’t provide any solutions.

As a result, some provincial governments and non-profits have set up hot lines to serve farmers and rural citizens. A counselor at the Manitoba Farm Rural & Northern Support Services still feels they’re rare though and admits they get calls from out of province. You can see from the list below, there is a lot of opportunity to improve services offered to farmers and rural Canadians. In the case where you suspect a life is in danger, you should always call 911 or go to your local hospital first.

If you know of or recommend other services, please leave them in the comments below for our readers.

-Jen C.

Farmer Support and Mental Health Resources in Canada

Resources (rather than just links, we’ve included phone numbers so you can print & share it with someone who may need it). All phone support services listed below are available 24/7 unless otherwise noted and confidential.

Alberta Government Confidential Help Line
Call: 877-303-2642
More information:$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/faq8848?opendocument

Manitoba Farm Rural & Norther Support Services / Manitoba Suicide Line
Offers 3 ways to get support:
Call: 1-866-367-3276
Online chat:

Ontario The Farm Line – unconfirmed if still operational
Call: 1-888-451-2903 (Mon to Fri – 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.)
You can also search “rural Ontario counselling” and a number of local programs are available, like the Guelph-Wellington Rural Women’s Support Program.

ConnexOntario – Ontario Ministry of Health Mental Health Helpline
Call: 1-866-531-2600
More information:

Prince Edward Island Farmer Assistance Program
Call: (902) 894-8006
More information:

Saskatchewan Mobile Crisis Farm Stress Line
Call: 1-800-667-4442
More information:

e-Mental Health Rural and Remote Counselling Services Directory

Farm Support Organizations Outside Canada

The Farming Community Network (UK)
The Upper Teesdale Ag Support Services (UK)
Farm Rescue (North Dakota)
National Center for Farmer Health (Australia)



Industry Profile – Rebecca Hannam

Rebecca Hannam is an agricultural communications professional who also spends a lot of
her time volunteering. Managing her many commitments and interests can be a struggle, but she’s working to find more balance and lessening harmful stress. She even shares with us her newest strategy to keep her “to do list” manageable.

If you’re interested in connecting with Rebecca, contact her via Twitter(, LinkedIn ( or email (

To start off, please tell the Ag Women’s Network more about yourself.

Rebecca HannamI grew up in a grain farming family near Guelph. My family has lived on and farmed the same land there since 1929. You could say that agriculture is in my blood and that’s how I found myself studying at the University of Guelph where I graduated with a degree in agricultural business in 2012.

Communications in agriculture has been a specific passion of mine from a young age when I competed in the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture speaking competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I enjoy both speaking and writing to share my thoughts and the ideas and work of others, and have been writing for agricultural publications for over five years now.

After graduation I worked as a commercial and agriculture account manager in the banking sector. I have transitioned from that role and today I work full-time in communications and fund development with a provincial non-profit organization, the Rural Ontario Institute. I also continue my part-time writing business, AgInspire Communications, and volunteer with the Fergus Agricultural Society and Ontario Agricultural College Alumni Association.

Professionally we are often seeking success. How do you define personal success?

We might be told that success at work comes from a sales goal chart or your name on a list, but I think personal success really comes from achieving personal goals and being happy. Setting those goals together with your partner or your family are important and after some soul searching, what’s included in those goals can be a true reflection of your values – which are ultimately what will make you the most fulfilled.

Are you willing to share a mistake you made but that taught you something important?

In the spirit of helping each other, let’s get real and honest for a minute. Many of us have too much on our plates and too many worries in our minds. This takes a toll and for me, it has been easy to get bogged down feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It can happen when we take on too much and it can have serious health impacts. It doesn’t happen because we mean it to at all – for me, I truly just get too excited about too many projects and want to be part of them all! Saying “yes” to too many things is where I have gone wrong in the past, both in the areas of volunteer activities and part-time work. Recognizing the need to say “no”, realizing how to say it and how to stick to it are lessons I am learning – it’s a work in progress. For me, I’ve had to figure out how much I can take on in each area of my life and I’ve literally written out my priorities for this year. Now, when I am asked to get involved in something or take on a new project (when you need something done, ask a busy person, right?), I am going to visualize that list and if it doesn’t fit, I will decline. I’m loving the line “you can do anything but not everything”.

I’m curious to know what other tips and tricks are out there because I think stress is an issue faced by many of us but one that we don’t talk about enough.

Who has been your most significant mentor?

I think we are seeing more and more formal mentorship programs which is really encouraging. I am personally not involved in a formal program like that, but consider a few key people in my professional life mentors to me because of the time that I have spent with them or the conversations that I continue to have with them. I had the opportunity to work for three incredible women during my summer internships in university. All three managed different businesses, different areas of businesses and managed people differently but all faced similar challenges and met me and influenced me at a key stage in my career. They were honest and open about their lives and that was very important to get a glimpse into what the ‘real world’ of being a busy manager and mom is really like. There are things that they said or did that I did not understand then but now as a full-time working woman balancing life, I know where they were coming from and so appreciate the insights they were giving me. It’s important to foster those relationships when you have the opportunity and be that type of person for others – open, honest and willing to help out when you can, even if it is just sharing an experience.

How do you define agriculture?

Agriculture is the production of more than food – it is food, feed, fibre and fuel. Agriculture is a business – from research and development to final processing – that supports the world in many ways.

What do you think is the most important topic in agriculture right now? Or what should be?

Feeding a growing global population is a hot topic in agriculture as well as consumer relations and agvocating for what farmers do and how they do it. I think these two actually go hand-in-hand. Agriculture can feed the world because we have incredible technology and more coming and strong managers who can take production to the next level – but will they be able to? There is still a lot of work to do to show the public that technology can be safe and that these managers are good people doing good things.

Why are you interested in being a part of the Ag Women’s Network?

To me, the Ag Women’s Network is an opportunity to meet each other, share and learn. Women in agriculture have a lot in common and the more we can support each other, the better.

by: Stephanie Craig

AWN – A community of support

To start 2016 off in a BIG way, Ag Women’s Network held our first event of the season, but we tried something different. Considering the vast size of Ontario and just how far our ‘network’ extends with women from across Ontario, we held our first ever online event.

To say it was a success is an understatement for what we were expecting going in.

We welcomed many new women to our network who were enthusiastic to share who they were on our Facebook group. We shared many thought-provoking videos and articles throughout the weekend to help stimulate conversation and hear our member’s opinions and ideas. To top it off, our Twitter chat using the hashtag #AWNChat garnered awesome insight and perspective on a wide range of topics including personal development, involvement in boards/committees, and work-life ‘balance.’

After a rewarding weekend of such inspiring conversation, it made me realize that we are a network of so many amazing women that share the same backgrounds, upbringing, thoughts and dreams. We want a lot of the same things and have ideas on how to make positive change in the sector we all love, agriculture.

But what also resonated with me is that we also face a lot of the same challenges.

Gender inequality; barriers to job promotions; feelings of unworthiness; negative thinking; anxiety; balancing motherhood; the reality of being a new mom; lack of confidence in our own abilities – these are some of the challenges that we all face together, as a network.

On an important day like today where we are celebrating #BellLetsTalk Mental Health day, it is crucial to make our AWN members feel OK to openly discuss their challenges without judgement or criticism. That is exactly what our courageous AWN member Maureen Balsillie did with her very honest post this week entitled, “Mental Health in Agriculture – Why Aren’t We Talking About It?That is how we’ll turn these challenges into positive opportunities – by knowing that we support each other and can talk openly about the challenges.

After the weekend we had two weekends ago, it made me realize that our Ag Women’s Network is not just about helping each other ‘get better’ in our skill set and create more opportunities for women in Ag. Our network is also about a community of women there to support each other, so in those times where someone needs an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on or reassurance that others are going through what they are going through, that they have a community that will listen and support them, when they need it most.

There is no better time to have the community of support we do in our Ag Women’s Network. Let’s keep this amazing conversation and rally of support going – both to create opportunities for each other but also to address the challenges we face, together.

By: Christina Crowley-Arklie @CCrowleyArklie

Mental Health in Agriculture- Why aren’t we talking about it?

Up until about a year ago I had never given much thought to mental illness. I had heard the stats and read articles. While I did have friends and relatives who suffered from it and understood it – probably better than most – it had never occurred to me that it could happen to me.

I grew up on a farm, which as you can all imagine meant there was always something going on or needing to be done. My parents worked tirelessly around the clock to keep the business going, in addition to raising my sisters and I, which wasn’t a task for the faint of heart.

Just like you, I had also heard all the stories about mental illness and how it could affect anyone, at anytime and still, I somehow viewed it as a “first world problem.”An affliction for those who didn’t have enough to do to keep themselves busy. So when I started experiencing sudden bouts of anxiety and panic attacks, I was unsure of how to proceed. I spent several months treating each symptom or attack as stand alone, viewing each incident as the result of a very specific set of circumstances, unrelated to anything that happened before.  As far as I could tell, I wasn’t even a prime candidate for that type of thing. I was busy. I worked full-time, I was volunteering several nights a week. I was active. I ran, did yoga, and played sports. I had close relationships with friends and family, which is why I assumed that each individual episode wasn’t or couldn’t be the sign of mental illness. I then tried to think of ways I could stop the attacks from happening, could I add more to my already overflowing plate? Eat different? Exercise more? The reality was nothing I did stopped it. In fact, the more I let it go on, the worse it got. It wasn’t until one of my sisters caught me mid-panic attack and I spent the better part of a day in full anxiety mode that I was able to acknowledge that i wasn’t going to go away on its own.

FullSizeRender.jpgIt was my mentality about mental illness that in retrospect shocked me the most. Why was it that when symptoms began presenting themselves in my own life, I shrugged them off? The same symptoms, if seen in a friend or family member, would have caused me to encourage them to visit the doctor.  

In preparation for our discussion this week, I wanted to get a picture of what is currently out there regarding mental illness in agriculture.

As it turns out – not much. A Google search of ‘mental illness in agriculture’ turned up a half-dozen research articles, mostly from the UK and Australia, who had conducted basic research into the prevalence of mental health issues in agricultural producers. There were no news articles, no op-eds and only one video describing health issues among producers that briefly mentioned mental health issues.

The most shocking part is that all research done to date clearly shows that rates of depression and suicide are much higher for farmers than any other industries. So why aren’t people talking about this? Why aren’t we talking about this?

After speaking with Andria Britton-Jones, a vet and researcher at the University of Guelph who is currently conducting a study of Canadian farmers regarding mental illness for producers, I quickly began to realize that the common opinions about mental illness of those in the agriculture industry were in line with what my views had been. I began to realize some of the factors that contributed to my own opinions regarding my own problems are also very much still present in rural areas and the agriculture industry. As I mentioned before, very few studies have been conducted to address mental illness for producers. This is in spite of the fact that rates of suicide and depression are higher for producers than most professions. Andria and her colleagues decided to pursue this research after both experiencing or hearing anecdotal evidence of vets observing visual signs of depression and anxiety of producers that they visited.

Andria had ideas of some of the unique conditions that producers experience that could help explain these high rates of mental illness. Some of which includes:

  • financial pressure
  • succession planning
  • overall poor health (inactive, overweight, irregular visits to the doctor)
  • isolation
  • stress
  • disease outbreak
  • irregular weather conditions and poor yields
  • overworking, or never being able to ‘leave work’

The list goes on and on. However, I must note that there was one item on her list that really hit home for me. Some early anecdotal evidence suggests that – among farmers- mental illness may be considered a sign of a poor ethic. As many of us know, for producers having a poor work ethic is about the worst thing you can have. But, due to lack of discussion around this topic this has become,in both urban and rural areas, mental illness is viewed as a weakness and something that is and can only  be experienced by those who do not work hard enough.

This week on AWN, we want to continue to bring awareness to this issue and hopefully start the conversation about mental illness in agriculture. We hope that this conversation will break the stigma about the real health dangers of not treating mental illness but also encourage  people to seek help and realize that mental illness is not weakness or laziness but a very real danger to our friends and family. We will be doing this to help promote #BellLetsTalk which raises money for mental health initiatives in Canada on Wednesday, January 27th. 

  • Maureen Balsillie @greenmreen