Home > NewsRelease > Rural Response to Farmer Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Text Movie Graphics
Rural Response to Farmer Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Frank King -- Your TED Talk Coach Frank King -- Your TED Talk Coach
Eugene, OR
Sunday, March 13, 2022

Rural Response to Farmer Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Video Clip: Click to Watch
https://youtu.be/IeMg6OFYfU0Can Farmers Help Each Other Navigate Mental Health Crises?The pandemic precipitated a new mental health crisis in ag. Programs have some federal funding—for now.BY LELA NARGIFEBRUARY 1, 2022For Farmworkers Facing Debilitating Depression, Is Teletherapy a Solution?Chris Frakes spent childhood summers on her grandparents' corn and soy farm in Iowa, and she vividly remembers the devastation of the 1980s farm crisis. In that one decade, some 300,000 farmers defaulted on their loans and many were forced to shutter their operations forever"I watched my uncle struggle as [he] nearly lost the family farm, then we had a couple of farmer suicides that really rocked the community," says Frakes, who is now the project director of Farm Well Wisconsin, which offers behavioral and wellness services across the state. "So, farmer mental health has been this concern that I've had my whole adult life""Seeking out mental health services, therapy, that's certainly not within a lot of farmers' up-bringing. Their mindset is independence and autonomy"The pandemic and all its challenges, along with mounting anxiety about the impacts of climate change, have triggered another series of crises, in and out of the agriculture community. As a result, demand for mental health services, especially for anxiety and depression, has seen a massive uptick. A poll conducted on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation found that 61 percent of farmers and farm workers said they experienced more stress and mental health challenges in 2021 than they did in 2020; new NIH research indicates that they may have an elevated risk of suicide to boot.And yet, folks who work in ag are often loath to admit they need emotional support or more concerted behavioral care, let alone to ask for it. "Seeking out mental health services, therapy, that's certainly not within a lot of farmers' up-bringing," says Lisa Misch, director of farmer outreach and technical assistance at Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA). "Their mindset is independence and autonomy"Nevertheless, an increasing number of farm-related groups are actively working to reduce the stigma around mental health services and to increase farmer access to resources that will help them, before feelings of hopelessness become overwhelming.Peer-to-Peer SupportWhile every workplace has its stressors, farming includes several uniquely disquieting aspects. "For farmers, there's the element of livelihood, there's the element of their housing, and then there's the element of legacy," says Misch. "Either multiple generations before them have been [on the land] or they're trying to build something to leave to future generations. There's a lot at stake, and a lot of pride in the work that can get mixed into not wanting to show they might not be succeeding" The all-too-common response to this perception of personal failure is shame.The Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC), a three-year collaborative project among several organizations, just this year decided that the time had come for them to act. In addition to the project's efforts to boost the profile of Wisconsin's 38,000-plus women producers, WiWiC has started offering courses in a behavioral health strategy that may well be uniquely suited to farmers: They're training their members in peer-to-peer mental health support.In five two-hour initiatives throughout the state over the course of two months, WiWiC will coach up to 30 women at a time to recognize signs of stress in farmers, teaching them how to actively listen for clues that an emotional crisis might be brewing. To do this, they're using a program called Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory (COMET), which was developed in 2014 at the High Plains Research Network, and which serves eastern Colorado's rural and frontier communities. These regions, like Wisconsin's, have a preponderance of people working in ag and a dearth of mental health care providers. "So, it's up to community members to help fill some of those gaps," says Chris Frakes, who took the COMET training in 2021 and whose organization has since trained about 150 farmers and rural community members; Farm Well Wisconsin is also facilitating WiWiC's COMET workshops.Through COMET, farmers and other locals—for instance, the owner of the hardware store and staff at the public school—learn to ask gentle but probing questions of their friends and neighbors during the normal course of conversation. They may tell a socially isolated farmer that they've missed her at the diner lately, then ask, "How are you, really?" says Maret Felzein, a member of HPRN's Community Advisory Council who helped fine-tune the COMET curriculum. Questions culminate in asking the person who's struggling if they'd be open to hearing a story about a similar challenge, or if they'd be willing to talk again. "It's an invitation to engage," Felzein says"Truth be told, even family and friends can be like, 'Why are you working every weekend? Why can't you leave the farm for vacation?' You're always in triage mode on a farm"Sara George, a WiWiC regional coordinator, says this kind of strategy lines up with the very particular needs of the farming community. "There are farmer helplines out there; there's mental health support groups" (Farm Aid, for example, maintains an online list of resources.) "But I think building up a network in a community is so much more relevant," George says.Part of this, she says, has to do with the fact that the person on the other end of a crisis hotline might not have a background in ag, or understand its pressures. "Truth be told, even family [members] and friends can be like, 'Why are you working every weekend? Why can't you leave the farm for vacation?'" George says. "[They don't understand that] you've got irrigation pipes that are breaking, animals that are dying, and crops that have an infestation of bugs. You're always in triage mode on a farm"When it comes to support groups, Misch says competition between farmers can also be an inhibitor. "You don't always want to tell another farmer, 'We are facing issues,' because that can lead to certain farmers knocking on the door asking to buy your land. There needs to be a level of confidentiality" Isolation, and the can-do ethic that makes many farmers determined to suffer in silence, compounds the challenge of getting folks the help they need.An Arsenal of Mental Health ToolsCOMET is just one tool in the behavioral health arsenal for those with a stake in keeping the ag community emotionally sound. RAFI-USA favors a practical approach. "When we think about mental health outreach, we're looking at it through the lens of farm stress," says Misch. Through their Farm Advocacy program, which has been a cornerstone of the organization's work since its founding in 1990, they guide farmers in navigating any number of business disasters: loan acceleration, pending bankruptcy, natural disasters, crop losses, and others.The organization's lead farmer advocate—himself a survivor of the 1980s farm crisis—lends an ear, then counsels a farmer on what options might be available. Says Misch, "If it's a loan acceleration, maybe they could [reorganize their finances by filing a] Chapter 12 [bankruptcy], which would allow them to keep farming [on their land]. Sometimes the goal is to retain assets when they get out of farming, or it's, 'We're keeping this land no matter what.'"

#suicideprevention #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #depression #anxiety #mentalhealthmatters #suicide #suicideawarness #ptsd #mentalillness #selfcare #suicideawareness #love #depressionawareness #depressionhelp #agriculture #farmers #suicidepreventionmonth #mentalhealthadvocate #endthestigma #mentalhealthsupport #selflove #recovery #youarenotalone #bipolar #trauma #hope #mentalhealthrecovery #loveyourself #mentalwellness #therapy #construction #constructionindustry #suicidepreventionworkplace #workplacesuicideprevention #attorneys #lawyers #physiciansuicide #physician #doctor #medicine #healthcare #medical #doctors #nurse #medstudent #medicalstudent #health #medschool #medicalschool #surgeon #hospital #surgery #covid #futuredoctor #physicianassistant #doctorsofinstagram #medlife #physicians #pathology #premed #dentist #doctorlife #cardiology #wellness #anatomy

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Frank King
Group: Your TED Talk Coach
Dateline: Springfield, OR United States
Direct Phone: 858.405.5653
Main Phone: 8584055653
Cell Phone: 8584055653
Jump To Frank King -- Your TED Talk Coach Jump To Frank King -- Your TED Talk Coach
Contact Click to Contact