Iowa State University Extension Expands Awareness of Farmer Mental Health


Iowa State University Extension is expanding its mental health activities to a particularly vulnerable population: farmers.

The organization is using a $ 500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to make mental health resources more accessible to farming and rural communities over the coming year.

Farmers statewide can access free programs at suicide prevention and mental health first aid each month. Johnson said the courses are specifically designed to address the occupational stressors of people working in the agricultural industry.

“We want people to be aware of these work-related stressors, as well as rural barriers, and know how these can add to distress if someone is already in some way at a breaking point or at risk for. mental health problem. ” said Demi Johnson, behavioral programs coordinator at ISU Extension.

“If we can help one person, it’s worth it. “

Norlan Hinke, Program Specialist

Factors such as weather uncertainty, long working hours, isolation make farmers likely to suffer from poor mental health. Farmers are at higher risk of suicide than average, according to a study by the Centers of Disease Control Prevention.

Johnson said the organization wants to tackle the disproportionate impact on farmers by ensuring every farm producer has the access they need to support.

“Maybe there’s only one hospital within 30 minutes of your home and you know the doctor,” Johnson said. “So if you have substance abuse issues or suicidal thoughts, there’s this stigma around seeking help. There’s that extra barrier that residents of urban Iowa may not necessarily encounter. “

The coronavirus pandemic has put additional strain on the mental health of farmers. In an investigation by the American Farm Bureau, the majority of farmers said their mental health had deteriorated amid COVID-19.

An American Farm Bureau investigation has shown that many farmers believe the coronavirus pandemic is having a low impact on their mental health.

Southwestern Iowa psychologist and farmer Dr Michael Rosmann said the added uncertainty over access to equipment and fluctuating infection rates put more pressure on an already stressful job.

“We don’t control the weather, nor agricultural prices. But we can control the way we deal with ourselves and deal with stress, ”said Rosmann.

Extension workers will use the grant to better train those who interact most with farmers on how to recognize signs of distress. The organization will provide information materials to rural pastors, doctors and bankers in all 99 counties in Iowa.

UIS extension program specialist Norlan Hinke said outreach to community members is vital to tackling mental challenges in rural areas.

“There’s this added barrier that people in urban Iowa may not necessarily encounter.”

Demi Johnson, Program Coordinator

“They have the most opportunity to identify if someone really has these personal issues, whether it’s depression or loneliness,” he said. “It’s about making these people more comfortable identifying and dealing with these situations. “

Rosmann said it’s important for farmers to speak with people who understand the unique stressors of their industry. He said giving the tools to people who farmers already trust can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health – one of the biggest barriers.

“We haven’t completely eliminated the negative stigma that farmers have towards seeking help with mental or behavioral health issues. It’s going to take more than a few years for that to happen, ”he said.

Distributed resources will give farmers a better sense of free telehealth options available to them if they have limited access to in-person counseling. It will also explain how to get help without health insurance, for those who may be in financial difficulty.

Most importantly, Hinke hopes mental health programs can save a life. Or, at the very least, give some comfort to agricultural producers struggling with loneliness or depression.

“We are trying to get it to help anyone who might need it,” he said. “If we can help one person, it’s worth it. “


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