The Iowa State University expansion expands the reach of farmers’ mental health

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

The organization is using a $ 500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help make mental health resources more accessible to farmers and rural communities in the coming year.

Farmers across the state can access free programs Suicide prevention and Mental health first aid every month. Johnson said the courses are specifically designed to address job stressors of people in the agribusiness.

“We want people to be aware of these work stressors and rural barriers, and how they can exacerbate suffering when someone is already exposed to a fracture or mental health problem,” said Demi Johnson, program coordinator for behavioral programs at ISU Extension.

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

Norlan Hinke, program specialist

Factors such as weather uncertainty, long working hours and isolation make farmers prone to poor mental health. Farmers have an above-average risk of suicide This is the result of a study by the Centers of Disease Control Prevention.

Johnson said the organization wants to address the disproportionate impact on farmers by ensuring that every agricultural producer has the access he needs to support.

“Maybe there is only one hospital within 30 minutes of your home and you know the doctor,” said Johnson. “So if you’ve had a history of drug problems or suicidal thoughts, there’s this stigma of seeking help. There’s that extra barrier that people in urban parts of Iowa may not necessarily have. “

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

A survey by the American Farm Bureau found that many farmers believed the coronavirus pandemic had had a weak impact on their mental health.

Dr. Michael Rosmann, a psychologist and farmer in southwest Iowa, said the added uncertainty about access to equipment and fluctuating infection rates put even more pressure on an already stressful job.

“We control neither the weather nor the farm prices. But we can control how we manage ourselves and deal with stress, ”said Rosmann.

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

Norlan Hinke, ISU expansion program specialist, said reaching out to community members is critical to addressing mental health issues in rural areas.

“There’s that extra barrier that people in urban parts of Iowa may not necessarily have.”

Demi Johnson, program coordinator

“You have the most opportunity to see if someone really has these personal problems, be it depression or loneliness,” he said. “It’s about making these people feel more comfortable, recognizing these situations and dealing with them.”

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

“We haven’t completely erased the negative stigma farmers have when seeking help with mental or behavioral health problems. It will be more than a few years before that happens, ”he said.

The distributed resources give farmers a better feel for free telemedicine options are available to them if they have limited access to personal advice. It also discusses how to get assistance without health insurance for those who may have financial difficulties.

Most importantly, Hinke hopes that mental health programs can save lives. Or at least bring some comfort to agricultural producers struggling with loneliness or depression.

“We try to help everyone who needs help,” he said. “If we can help a person, it’s worth it.”

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