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New Resource Helps Farmers Navigate Mental Health Needs

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Arkansas farmer David Wildy inspects a field of soybeans that were damaged by dicamba in 2017.

URBANA — A lot of people work tough jobs where they don’t have much control. But instead of merely being annoyed by a Lumberghian boss, imagine your livelihood was at the mercy of the weather and global trade wars.

That’s farming. And it’s stressful.

Listen to this story here.

A new online resource, FarmStress.org, aims to help farmers manage stress, anxiety, depression, or substance use issues. It’s a project of the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center, a 12-state collaborative based at the University of Illinois that is funded by the USDA via the Farm Bill.

Depression, anxiety, and suicide are more prevalent among agricultural populations than the general public. Job-related stresses are abundant, such as commodity prices, whether you’re getting too much (or too little rain) or larger political or economic situations, said Josie Rudolphi, U of I Extension specialist and assistant professor in agricultural and biological engineering and project director.

“What we noticed is that so much of what farmers experience is completely out of their control, and so managing those stressors becomes a little bit more challenging,” said Rudolphi.

COVID-19 has only added to the stress, with some producers worried about finding a market for their livestock or pondering what to do if they got sick and couldn’t work the farm.

“And how can they keep employees safe and healthy? We know there’s a lot of seasonal or temporary work hired in the spring and the fall during those peak agricultural periods. And wondering, what I can do on my farm to make sure that we keep everyone healthy while still getting done our essential tasks,” Rudolphi said.

In general, there are not enough mental health care providers in the U.S. and in Illinois. That’s especially true in rural areas. Many of the federally identified mental health provider “shortage areas” in Illinois are in rural places, said Courtney Cuthbertson, Extension specialist and assistant professor in human development and family studies and project co-director.

The stigma associated with mental health is another challenge, Cuthbertson and Rudolphi said.

“We’ve heard a lot of producers specifically say, ‘Everyone knows my truck in town. And if I’m parked outside a behavioral health specialist’s office, people are gonna know and people are gonna talk. And what will that mean for me and my family in this community?’” Rudolphi said.

FarmStress.org has resources by state and topic, including crisis numbers, telephone hotlines, and training resources. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Those in crisis should visit their local emergency department or call 911 immediately.

There’s also a daily social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook that will include posts on mental health topics signs and symptoms of distress, where those in need can find help, how to help someone in need, and strategies for managing stress.

COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. We recommend checking the Coronavirus Information Center for the most recent numbers and guidance.

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