WI farmers seek mental health services amid pandemic

Associated Press
The loss in income and increased uncertainty have weighed heavily on those trying to make a living in the ag industry.

MADISON. Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin farmers are seeking mental health services in greater numbers during the coronavirus pandemic, which has hurt their sales and led to the temporary shutdown of some meatpacking plants that have had outbreaks of the disease.

The loss in income and increased uncertainty have weighed heavily on the industry, Wisconsin Public Radio reported Wednesday.

Randy Romanski, the interim head of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, told reporters last week that more farmers have been receiving guidance from the Wisconsin Farm Center.

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"Obviously, with the challenges that many farmers are feeling with COVID-19, after several years of challenges with prices and trade disruptions, call volume to the Farm Center is high," Romanski said. "We've been trying to provide resources to deal with stress and anxiety, communication, things of that nature, and we will continue to do so."

Between January and April, Romasnksi said the center had given out 91 vouchers for free mental health counseling. A total of 89 vouchers were handed out all of last year.

Dr. Elizabeth Bade is the medical director of Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers, which serves rural communities in southwestern Wisconsin. She said farming was stressful before the pandemic and that she worries the added stress could cause farmers to experience poor sleep, chronic pain and even increased risk of heart attack.

"Soon, I think we're going to see more of the stress response and health concerns surrounding that, both mental and physical health, as being just as important and just as dangerous as the virus that started this whole thing," she said.

Bade noted that many farmers don't think they can afford mental health services.

"When you're already paying out-of-pocket for your primary care costs or your urgent care costs ... it seems like a luxury to then also pay for mental health care," she said.