Recognizing the high levels of stress affecting America’s farmers and ranchers, Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union have partnered on a program to train individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers to recognize signs of stress and offer help.
Farm Bureau to address mental health concerns, farmer stress
Based on the farm stress program Michigan State University Extension developed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, this combination of online and in-person trainings is designed specifically for individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers. It provides participants the skills to understand the sources of stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies, reduce stigma related to mental health concerns and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.
The Montana Farm Bureau has been addressing the mental health issue closer to home. At their convention in November, Darla Tyler McSherry talked about what to look for with depression and encouraged farmers and ranchers to visit her website, askinearnest.org. The Lewis & Clark County Farm Bureau hosted a speaker promoting mantherapy.org which provides a lighter way to address the fact that it’s okay to talk about mental health. In addition, Montana Farm Bureau is actively working with other groups and agencies as a part of the statewide Farm/Ranch Stress Prevention Council and preparations are being made to provide materials and support to Montanan’s facing stress and mental health issues.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall said, “Farm Bureau is a family, and when a member is hurting, we all feel it and are eager to help. But we may not always know how to spot the warning signs that someone is overwhelmed. This training program will help our members recognize the warning signs and empower them to get help for their friends, family, neighbors or even themselves. We’re honored to partner with Farm Credit and Farmers Union to strengthen rural resilience in farm communities.”
In a national Morning Consult poll commissioned by AFBF in April 2019, a strong majority of farmers and farmworkers said financial issues (91%), farm or business problems (88%) and fear of losing the farm (87%) impact the mental health of farmers and ranchers, and nearly half of rural adults (48%) said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago.
“Many of us think of farms as idyllic,” said Jeff Dwyer, director of MSU Extension. “And what is portrayed is ideal, but what is not often shown is how hard farming is on both the body and the mind.”
Research also shows that while farmers experience higher levels of psychological distress and depression than the general population, they are less likely to seek help for mental health issues. Even for those who do seek help, resources may not be readily available, as 60% of rural Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages.
Early feedback from the FSA trainings showed strong results. Ninety-one percent of participants indicated that the training improved their ability to serve customers experiencing stress, and 80% said it improved their ability to manage their own stress.
“Things have been really tough for farmers for several years now, and it’s taking a significant toll on their mental well-being,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “But between stigma, a lack of mental health care in rural communities and poor broadband access, there are so many barriers to getting help. By training trusted neighbors and friends to recognize and address stress, this program will bring help closer and make it more accessible when farmers really need it.”
In response to the many economic and environmental challenges confronting farmers, National Farmers Union compiled financial, legal and mental health resources at its online Farm Crisis Center. The organization’s partnership with Farm Bureau and Farm Credit will build on that project by further increasing farmers’ access to the information and services they need to get through financial and personal emergencies. Resources may also be accessed on MSU Extension’s “Managing Farm Stress” website.
The trainings, which will begin in the coming weeks, are funded by a grant from Farm Credit.
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