By SARA ARTHURS
This year’s farming season has been very difficult, and organizations at the state level want farmers who are struggling to know that mental health help is available.
Bobbie Boyer, deputy director of prevention services for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said she sometimes meets with people who live in cities who are not aware of the stress that Ohio farmers are under.
She encourages neighbors, friends and family members to check in on farmers.
In general, farmers are people who emphasize being self-sufficient and keeping things to themselves, or to “make things work on their own” rather than seeking help, said Dr. Justin Trevino, medical director for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
And farming involves isolation, he said, so for those who do want to seek out mental health care, the options are fewer.
A 2018 study by the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 53% of rural areas were designated as having a shortage of mental health professionals, Trevino said.
In addition, people who live in the country are more likely to own firearms, which are often used as a means of suicide, Trevino said. Aging white males are known to be at a higher risk of suicide in general, and farmers tend to be older and male, he said.
Trevino said experts know chronic stress can make a person predisposed to developing depression. Sadness or feeling down for a short period of time can be just a normal part of life, but biological depression is more sustained, and the person may lose hope, not sleep or eat well, and be very unhappy all the time, he said.
Trevino noted that another issue is “farming as an identity — when farmers are struggling financially, they can see themselves as ‘failures.'”
At the state level, Ohio’s Department of Agriculture and Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services have teamed up to make resources available for farmers. OSU Extension offices and farm bureaus have also been part of this effort.
The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky & Wyandot Counties recently provided information and outreach to farmers at the Seneca County Fair. Deputy Director Robin Reaves said people were grateful for the support.
“Being that we are a rural community, we struggle with stigma,” she said in an email. “There is still a hesitation that exists in our community with people asking for help and with feeling comfortable with talking about one’s mental health status and needs.”
And, she said, farmers are part of a long history “where it was not OK to talk about mental health or to seek treatment. We hope that our efforts help people feel more comfortable about having these conversations and using the available resources.”
Reaves said her staff also wants to reach out to professionals who work with farmers, like loan officers or insurance agents.
“They are witnesses to the impact this season is having on farmers and they at times have to be deliverers of unfortunate financial news, and we want to give them the tools and resources that can be helpful during these conversations,” she said.
The Hancock County ADAMHS board plans a similar effort at the upcoming Hancock County Fair. Executive Director Precia Stuby said in addition to the isolation of farming, there is the stress that comes with the volatility of the profession.
“Everything can look great, and then you can have a hailstorm and everything can be gone,” Stuby said.
Also, she said, a farm may be passed down from generation to generation, so there is a feeling that if things don’t go well, you are letting your family down.
Stuby said some farmers have fared better than others this year, but it’s important not to “blame or shame” others or to say, if only “you had done it THIS way.” Instead, “We just need to reinforce that everybody has done their best.”
Ginny Williams, the Family Resource Center’s chief clinical officer, said people think of “grief” and “loss” as having to do with a death or a divorce. But what farmers face involves a sense of “loss of identity,” or a loss of the farmers’ “hopes, dreams and expectations.”
And, as most farmers are men, some may see it as “a challenge to their masculinity” to reach out and ask for help, though “we certainly know that’s not true.”
While a farmer may “intellectually have that understanding” to realize they cannot control the weather, they may still feel angry, disappointed or scared, Williams said.
Family Resource Center will be offering an eight-week course on the “grief recovery method” from 6-8 p.m. Mondays beginning Sept. 23. It’s free to attend, and participants should commit to all eight weeks. To register, contact Family Resource Center at 419-422-8616.
Boyer said farmers’ spouses and children also must be considered, as “the stress is on the whole family.”
She said resources include “Man Therapy,” an online mental health resource geared toward men, as well as the online series “Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture.”
Boyer also recommended “Mental Health First Aid” or “Question, Persuade, Refer,” both trainings in which a person can learn how to respond to someone else in a crisis, similar to CPR. (For information on local classes, contact Focus at 419-423-5071 or the ADAMHS board at 419-424-1985.)
Need help? The Hancock County crisis line is 888-936-7116, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. The state Department of Mental Health maintains a toll-free help/information line at 800-275-6364.
Ohio also has a crisis text line. Text the keyword “4hope” to 741 741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor through a free, confidential service.