Farm groups launch free stress management course

Training and tools offered free to help farmers cope with challenging, uncertain environment.

June 23, 2020

2 Min Read
rural countryside and storm clouds

Following the December 2019 announcement of a new farm stress management online training course for employees and members of the Farm Credit Council, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, these organizations are now launching free online training that's available to the general public.

Developed by Michigan State University (MSU) Extension and the University of Illinois Extension, the course will help farmers, their families and neighbors identify and cope with stress. It provides participants with the skills to understand the sources of stress, manage their own stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.

According to the organizations, the challenges of ongoing low commodity prices, trade wars and extreme weather events have dramatically affected farmers and ranchers for years. “Add the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic disruptions, and that stress multiplies,” they said. “Stress among farmers and ranchers is felt throughout farm operations and seeps into cities and towns across the country.”

The online course builds on past training materials MSU Extension developed and tailored for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in 2019. Since then, additional courses and specific training have educated employees and members of the three farm groups nationwide.

“Farm families across the country already faced low prices, disastrous weather [and] uncertain trade prospects, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It’s a heavy load to carry," Farm Credit Council president and chief executive officer Todd Van Hoose said. "We hope farmers and their families and others in rural communities that are feeling stressed will take this free training and use the tools provided to get help coping with this unprecedented situation.”

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall, added, “We have to break through with a message of hope and help. Families don’t have to face today’s stresses and heavy burdens alone. This free online resource is a first step toward recognizing the signs and knowing what to do. We hope anyone who knows someone struggling will take advantage of this potential lifeline.”

National Farmers Union president Rob Larew pointed out that three in five rural Americans live in areas without enough mental health care providers to adequately serve the population, meaning help isn't always readily available.

“The pandemic hasn't made things any easier; social distancing requirements have limited in-person care, and many farmers have lost off-farm jobs that provided their health insurance. These circumstances have made the community-led mental health strategies taught in this online training all the more critical,” Larew said.

The course is funded by a grant from Farm Credit and supported by MSU Extension and Illinois Extension.

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