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Bipartisan, bicameral bill addresses high rural suicide rates

Seeding Rural Resilience Act praised by state and national farming and mental health organizations.

From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates grew in nearly all 50 states. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the suicide rate is 45% higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Congress aims to curb the rising rate of farmer suicides.

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act aims to curb growing rates of suicide in rural America by implementing a voluntary stress management training program to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service employees, providing the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $3 million to create a public service advertising campaign bringing awareness to the issue and directing the secretary of agriculture to work with state, local and non-government stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

Americans in rural communities face isolation, distance from basic health care services, lack of broadband access, stigmas against receiving counseling and financial burdens due to stagnant crop prices. These factors cause higher rates of stress for American farmers and ranchers, making it even harder for people in rural communities to get by.

The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition has endorsed the bipartisan, bicameral Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which helps address the growing rate of suicide in rural communities across the country. The bill was introduced in the House by Blue Dog Coalition co-chair for whip, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.), as well as Reps. John Katko (R., N.Y.) and Angie Craig (D., Minn.). The companion bill in the Senate is sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).

“A career in agriculture is a difficult but rewarding life. Farmers in upstate New York and around the country help feed the world, but unfortunately, many bear incredible burdens,” Brindisi said. “Whether it’s low prices, a trade war or Mother Nature, much of a farmer’s bottom line is out of their control, and that uncertainty can add to daily stresses. Our bill will help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health in our rural communities and ensure all farmers have better access to mental health care. I am honored to have the Blue Dog Coalition’s endorsement of this commonsense and bipartisan bill.”

“At a time when the farm economy is experiencing low commodity prices, extreme weather and volatile market fluctuations, producers face immense stress every day — and we need to provide them with access to mental health resources in their own communities,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.), co-chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity. She added that she's "proud to endorse and co-sponsor the Seeding Rural Resilience Act" and thanked Brindisi, Katko and Craig "for introducing this critical legislation. By reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and promoting effective suicide prevention programs, this bipartisan bill is a step forward as we look to lend a hand to the hardworking men and women who feed the American people.”

“The nationwide shortage of mental health providers hits rural communities especially hard,” said Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D., N.M.), co-chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Rural Opportunity. “An expansion of suicide prevention efforts to remote areas will help address the high suicide rates facing rural residents. In order to expand opportunity to every corner of our country, suicide prevention must be a top priority if we are to ensure rural communities are receiving the care they need.”

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act has been applauded by farming and mental health organizations across the country. The legislation is supported by the American Dairy Coalition, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Assn., Farm Aid, Female Farmer Project, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Assn., National Corn Growers Assn., National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers’ Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Assn., National Young Farmers Coalition, Rural & Agricultural Council of America, U.S. Canola Assn., U.S. Cattlemen’s Assn. and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Assn.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

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