As pandemic drags on, mental health still a big problem for farmers

Samantha Hendrickson
Wisconsin State Farmer
Some Wisconsin farmer leaders say immediate action is needed to help farmers access mental health services, while state officials debate the funding.

As the pandemic continues into its third year, more farmers are willing to talk about and destigmatize their mental health,  according to a study by American Farm Bureau Federation. 

Farmers and farm workers became 22% more comfortable talking to friends, family and their doctors about stress and mental health in 2020 than in 2019.

However, the rates of mental health problems and suicide remain higher for farmers than urban populations, and even prior to the pandemic, farmer stress and mental health problems were increasing steadily.

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A study by the National Rural Health Association found that rural populations are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than their urban counterparts. Male farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers have a significantly higher rate of suicide deaths at 43.2 per 100,000 compared to the average across all other occupations of 27.4 per 100,000.

However, through research, farmer-specific mental health training programs for professionals and other efforts, many organizations are finding more and more ways to provide resources for the unique needs of farmers and rural populations.

The warning signs 

Family and friends can help keep a look out for signs of mental health decline in their farmer loved ones.

Here are some ways you may be able to identify if they're at risk, according to AFBF:

  • Change in routine or social activities. 
  • Decline in the care of domestic animals
  • Increase in illness or chronic conditions
  • Increase in farm accidents 
  • Decline in appearance of the farmstead 
  • Declining interest in activities or events
  • Signs of stress in children, including struggles in school 

Resources

If you think your loved one may be experiencing several mental health issues, or is at risk of harming themselves, here are some resources that can help. 

American Farm Bureau Federation's "Farm State of Mind" 

This program helps serve farmers and their families on a national and local level by providing educational resources on rural mental health such as studies, videos, conversation guides and self-assessments on mental health from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Their website also provides access to the free stress-management course "Rural Resilience," via Michigan State University. The class seeks to help rural communities understand the sources of stress and destigmatize mental health struggles. 

Farm Well Wisconsin 

Farm Well Wisconsin believes "farming well depends on taking care of our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships."

Their network, based in southwestern Wisconsin, centers in on everyday health and wellness such as sleep management, diet and injury prevention to aid in farmer mental health. You can find tips and best practices for all these things and more on their website.

They also work to help break down mental health stigma by creating community networks, where rural populations and farmers can come together to help one another. 

FWW also provides resources and provider lists for southwestern Wisconsin to help connect rural populations to counselors for struggles such as substance abuse and other crises. 

DATCP's Farmer Wellness Program 

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has farmer-specific mental health counseling services through their Farmer Wellness Program.

You can call their 24/7 Wisconsin farmer mental health line at 1-888-901-2558 for "around the clock support," including free, confidential counseling sessions from licensed mental health professionals.

On the fourth Monday of every month at 8 p.m., the program hosts free counseling sessions for farmers and their partners via Zoom. You can sign up here at https://​bit.ly/2KI2ftd​.

If you need assistance paying for mental health services, you can find counseling vouchers by calling 1-800-942-2474. Please make sure your provider is participating in the voucher program. 

Samantha Hendrickson can be reached at 414-223-5383 or shendrickson@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at@samanthajhendr.