June 24, 2024

Serene Nest

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Three Oaks Cabin sees demand for mental health services

3 min read

Only a week after it started accepting bookings in late March, mental health respite Three Oaks Cabin was almost fully booked for June and July.

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“It’s great, because that means people are seeking help, but it also really reiterates the fact that we need to help people,” said Diane Bergsma, co-founder of Three Oaks Cabin.

The facility provides respite at no cost for farmers and first responders who face mental health challenges and emotional fatigue.

“There’s a great need for both these communities to receive help,” said Bergsma.

Why it matters: Three Oaks Cabin helps fill the need for respite to support mental health of the agriculture and first responder community.

Initial bookings are first-responder-heavy, but Bergsma suspects farmers are gearing up for planting season and hopes they reach out between wheat and soybean harvests.

“Over the past spring, there have been quite a few farmers who’ve reached out not for themselves, but ‘hey, I have a brother, I have a friend, a neighbour. When are you open?’” she said.

Development of the three-bedroom retreat and mental health facility, nestled in a 50-acre wood in Lambton County, was prompted after the Bergsma family lost their 27-year-old son Dalles, a farmer and Dawn-Euphemia volunteer firefighter, to suicide.

Dalles, like his parents, was a pork producer with a bright future, but the emotional stressors of farming and being a first responder quietly took their toll.

“It was after he passed away you realize it’s a very lonely road. There is nothing available,” Bergsma told Farmtario at the 2023 Ontario Pork annual meeting.

“If we can provide a place while people are exhausted or dealing with anxiety or high levels of stress in a quiet setting where they feel heard, and their struggles are recognized, hopefully they can find a better place.”

While clients receive therapy for free, Bergsma said the charity continually raises funds to cover costs and ensure the program remains a long-term investment in the community rather than a one- or two-year project.

On April 30, Three Oaks Cabin will learn whether its efforts to win BASF’s Growing Home $25,000 Ontario grant competition were successful. Bergsma said the funds would enhance mental health programming, which includes computer modules, workbooks and follow-up services, and would allow creation of an accessible, year-round trail through the 50-acre woodlot for nature therapy.

“(Follow-ups) touch base with them and see where they’re at. Would they benefit from more therapy, or did they get their feet back under them and feel like they’re doing well?”

Bergsma said initiating after-care contact instead of putting the onus on the client to access ongoing assistance removes the stumbling block some have in asking for help.

The cabin runs two annual fundraisers, the Hard Miles 5k Run in Mitchell’s Bay on June 15 and Shifting Gears tractor parade on Aug. 17 in Shetland.

“The run will have an added barbecue and the tractor parade, we’re going to make it very farm-family friendly with entertainment for the kids,” Bergsma said. “And the kids will also have the opportunity to do their own pedal tractor parade.”

Business style cards explaining the cabin’s services, workshops and how to book were developed for mechanics, veterinarians, feed salespeople and those with a farm-based clientele to distribute.

“(People) who might notice a change in a farmer can hand them the card and say, ‘you know what, I care about you. Maybe consider taking a break. Here’s a resource’.”

Those who want to donate a pedal tractor or funds to Three Oaks Cabin can email [email protected] for more information.


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