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Farm Groups partner to help farmers manage stress

Training program will help individuals identify signs of chronic stress and offer effective coping skills.

Recognizing the high levels of stress affecting America’s farmers and ranchers, Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union have partnered on a program to train individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers to recognize signs of stress and offer help.

Based on the farm stress program Michigan State University Extension developed for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, online and in-person trainings are designed specifically for individuals who interact with farmers and ranchers. It provides participants the skills to understand the sources of stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies, reduce stigma related to mental health concerns and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.

“Farm Credit loan officers are on farms working with producers every day, and they see firsthand how this difficult farm economy is causing emotional stress for farmers and their families. We hope this training initiative will help our lenders recognize the signs of severe stress and get farm families the support they need,” said Farm Credit Council chief executive officer Todd Van Hoose.  “We are very excited to partner with Farm Bureau and Farmers Union to make this training available throughout our rural communities.”

AFBF President Zippy Duvall commented, “Farm Bureau is a family, and when a member is hurting, we all feel it and are eager to help. But we may not always know how to spot the warning signs that someone is overwhelmed. This training program will help our members recognize the warning signs and empower them to get help for their friends, family, neighbors or even themselves. We’re honored to partner with Farm Credit and Farmers Union to strengthen rural resilience in farm communities.”

In a national Morning Consult poll commissioned by AFBF in April 2019, a strong majority of farmers and farmworkers said financial issues (91%), farm or business problems (88%) and fear of losing the farm (87%) impact the mental health of farmers and ranchers, and nearly half of rural adults (48%) said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago.

“Many of us think of farms as idyllic,” said Jeff Dwyer, director of MSU Extension. “And what is portrayed is ideal, but what is not often shown is how hard farming is on both the body and the mind.”

Research also shows that while farmers experience higher levels of psychological distress and depression than the general population, they are less likely to seek help for mental health issues. Even for those who do seek help, resources may not be readily available, as 60% of rural Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages.

Early feedback from the FSA trainings showed strong results. Ninety-one percent of participants indicated that the training improved their ability to serve customers experiencing stress, and 80% said it improved their ability to manage their own stress.

“Things have been really tough for farmers for several years now, and it’s taking a significant toll on their mental well-being,” said NFU president Roger Johnson. “But between stigma, a lack of mental health care in rural communities and poor broadband access, there are so many barriers to getting help. By training trusted neighbors and friends to recognize and address stress, this program will bring help closer and make it more accessible when farmers really need it.”

In response to the many economic and environmental challenges confronting farmers, National Farmers Union compiled financial, legal and mental health resources at its online Farm Crisis Center. The organization’s partnership with Farm Bureau and Farm Credit will build on that project by further increasing farmers’ access to the information and services they need to get through financial and personal emergencies. Resources may also be accessed on MSU Extension’s “Managing Farm Stress” website.

The trainings, which will begin in the coming weeks, are funded by a grant from Farm Credit.

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