Florence-Born out of tragedy, farmers and first responders will soon have a new place in rural Ontario to find hope and relief when experiencing mental health challenges.Source : Ontario Pork
“Watching the cabin come together has helped us on our grief journey, but also on our journey of hope,” said Diane Bergsma.
In 2020 the Bergsma family lost their son Dalles to suicide. Dalles was a pork producer and volunteer firefighter in the Township of Dawn-Euphemia. In his memory, the family created and built the Three Oaks Respite Cabin.
The cabin is designed as a tranquil space where farmers and first responders can go when the stresses of the world seem too daunting to tackle on their own.
“The support from the community, not just financially but through materials, their time, and of course, moral support has just been a godsend, as we provide a space of healing for other people.”
On Saturday, October 21, 2023, the Bergsma's held an Open House for the three-bedroom respite cabin. Hundreds of people attended the emotional ceremony, which included the planting of three oak trees.
“It’s been an amazing day, a day filled with hope and thoughts for the future, said Diane.”
Located 16 kilometers north of Thamesville, the cabin will provide a space for mental health recovery, for a profession that has seen a dramatic increase in mental health stresses.
“The numbers are staggering, some of the most current research indicates that one in four farmers contemplated suicide post-COVID,” said Lauren Van Ewyk, co-founder of the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance.
According to Lauren, there is an unprecedented number of farmers experiencing anxiety and chronic stress. She says the creation of this cabin and the awareness for this initiative couldn’t come at a more opportune time.
“This will have a huge impact; many farmers don’t have an opportunity to get away from their farm and regroup. This respite cabin provides that place to go and it's going to be really critical for farmers.”
As part of the resources offered at the Three Oaks Respite Cabin, the National Farmer Mental Health Alliance will provide mental health programming. Important services that are more difficult to find in rural Ontario.
“We found out that there’s a gap in services, between rural firefighters and those who farm,” said Levi Bergsma, who like his brother Dalles is also a farmer and volunteer firefighter.
“You know, we are all really super tough guys until we're not, and then you are in big trouble when you don’t do anything about it and then it’s too late. Hopefully, this will be a spot for them to get that help they couldn’t get before.”
As he looks out at the near-completed respite cabin, Levi says his brother would be extremely proud of what the family has accomplished.
“He loved helping people and he’d be pretty happy seeing this.”
For Diane, even though the pain of losing a child remains, she's hopeful this cabin will continue to be a catalyst for healing and hope.
“If we can help one person have a different outcome in their life, all of our communal efforts will have been rewarded…and we are grateful our story could be used in such a way.”