Mental Health Literacy Program Among U of G Innovations of the Year


November 15, 2022

Drs. Andria Jones-Bitton and Briana Hagen

A program to help protect farmers’ mental health is one of two University of Guelph innovations to receive the U of G’s Innovation of the Year Award or 2022.  

Drs. Andria Jones-Bitton and Briana Hagen in the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), working with a team of agriculture and mental health stakeholders, designed a mental health literacy program for farmers and the agricultural community. 

The annual awards from the Office of Research and the Research Innovation Office recognize U of G investigators for creative strategies or products that make a difference in people’s lives. 

Also receiving an Innovation of the year award, Dr. Robert Hanner, a professor in the College of Biological Science, and his team developed environmental DNA (or eDNA) biomonitoring methods and tools to monitor at-risk species.  

“The University of Guelph’s approach to research and innovation is unique in that it is tied to the betterment of society and improving life,” says Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).  “U of G forms partnerships with communities and the private sector with the goal of finding innovative solutions to solve complex societal issues. These innovations have real-world impact in our community and beyond.”  

In the Know  

Jones-Bitton, a professor in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, and Hagen, a research scientist in the same department, developed a trilingual mental health literacy training program for farmers and other agricultural workers called In the Know.  

The program involves a four-hour, live session, delivered in-person or virtually, to help farmers and other workers identify and understand mental health challenges and to connect people with the appropriate support.   

“It is about addressing a recognized need in agriculture,” Jones-Bitton said. “Farmers face occupational stressors that can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to mental illness.”  

Begun in fall 2019 with a pilot of about 100 people in Ontario, In the Know is now available Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia and partnership agreements are in the works with Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.  

“The program is agriculture-specific – it was designed with farmers for farmers and is evidence-based and formally evaluated,” Hagen said. “I think that’s a big reason we had success – it was a partnership from the beginning.”   

Jones-Bitton says the program could grow further.   

“We’re also engaged in conversations to bring new provinces on board and there’s interest in other countries as well. It’s exciting knowing that we are increasing agricultural community members’ abilities to care for themselves and others.”   

Originally posted on the University of Guelph website.  

Learn more about Innovation of the Year 2022: "In the Know" with Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton and Dr. Briana Hagen - YouTube 

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