The COVID pandemic has taken a significant role in the mental health of farmers and farmworkers. One challenge unique to rural communities is a lack of local resources and places to go to get help. To address this challenge, the American Farm Bureau has compiled resources on a website, www.FarmStateofMind.org. Here’s the director of communications, Ray Atkinson.
“Anybody that’s having any kind of emotional concerns or feeling a lot of stress, I’d recommend they go to a www.FarmStateOfMind.org. And we have a great website there that has crisis hotlines, treatment locators, tips for helping someone in emotional pain, ways to start conversations, and resources for managing stress, anxiety, or depression,” said Atkinson.
“I think particularly helpful you’ll find there is sort of some of the warning signs for stress. And things like looking at a change in the appearance of somebody’s farm, for instance, or the care of their animals and different things like that. So really good signs you can watch for and your friends and family and neighbors, to see if maybe they may be struggling, and there are resources there to help,” explained Atkinson.
If you or someone you know is feeling stress, anxiety, or similar mental health challenges, please visit www.FarmStateOfMind.org.
Part 2 Mental Health on the Farm: Destigmatizing Mental Health
October 4th – 10th is National Mental Illness Awareness week, and National Depression Screening Day is tomorrow, October 8, 2015.
Resources are provided at the end of this post.
Karen Markland,Division Manager for the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health‘s Planning, Prevention and Supportive Services. spoke with California Ag Today EditorLaurie Greene about mental health and the state’s farmers and farmworkers who have experienced increased stress due to the drought and environmental water restrictions impacting their livelihoods.
Editor: Back in April, your department partnered with the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the USDA to receive a grant specifically to host a conference called “The Drought Emergency and Preparedness Conference,” (DEAP). DEAP was a full-day event for farmers to discuss the drought and water, but also included representatives from mental health?
Markland: Here was the Department of Behavioral Health, a mental health partner, at an agricultural event. It was fascinating to see the curious looks that implied, “I kind of want to go up there, but I don’t want to go up there.” And by the end of the day, we had attendees and farmers approaching our table. We created an agricultural theme with plants and live videos of our gardening projects to destigmatize and show that mental health and mental wellness speak all languages. So we were pleased to be there.
Editor: We understand the Fresno County Farm Bureau participated?
Markland: Yes, the meeting with the EOC and USDA was actually initiated by the Fresno County Farm Bureau, which is is very interested in the wellbeing of its community. Ryan Jacobson, Farm Bureau ceo/executive director, had received some communication indicating our farmers were feeling stress and that some had lost their lives based on the anxiety and depression brought on by these drought conditions. It was time for us to activate and come together to talk about a very uncomfortable subject.
Our Farm Bureau and the USDA partnered to talk to workers and farmers who aren’t just happy; rather, they are depressed and anxious, and we are worried about them. The collaboration among the Farm Bureau, USDA and mental health was wonderful. It was an amazing dialogue to jointly say, “This is such a stigmatizing topic for a group of individuals who are typically adult male farmers who don’t want to share or hear these words. Yet, we’ve lost lives, so it is time to make a difference.”
The Fresno Department of Behavioral Health is dedicated to supporting the wellness of individuals, families, and communities in Fresno County who are affected by, or at risk of, mental illness and/or substance use disorders through cultivation of strengths toward promoting recovery in the least restrictive environment.
The Fresno Department of Behavioral Health provides mental health and substance abuse services to adults within the County of Fresno. The programs within our department focus on delivering the highest quality of service. There are over 300 professionals and staff dedicated to providing services in both metropolitan and rural areas. The diversity of our staff has helped us create a department that is sensitive to cultural differences and attempts to bridge the language barriers with our consumers.
Central Valley Suicide Prevention Hotline, 888-506-5991, is an immediate and consistent support for individuals in crisis or experiencing a suicidal crisis. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is confidential and free.
National Mental Health Awareness Month, in May 2014, is an opportune time to focus on eliminating the stigma of mental health in the California Farming Community and providing compassion and support to those who are struggling to cope.
Stress and anxiety that plague the family farmer during this crippling time of zero water allocations can lead to mental stress, which, in some cases, could lead to suicide. Last year, Tulare County had just over forty suicides from all walks of life, and some were from the farming community. In fact over the last few years, several California dairymen, specifically, have committed suicide.
Cheryl Lennon-Armas, co-chair of the Tulare-Kings County Suicide Prevention Task Force, notes that the subject of mental illness is something we all need to be aware of and talk about. “There’s a whole lot of people who are touched by suicide or attempted suicide or mental health issues. But there are not a lot of people who want to have a conversation about it.”
“So how do we make those topics easy to talk about?” Lennon-Armas wants the public to learn more so they are not afraid. “For example, say a farmer is talking to a lending company, and the lending company says, ‘Oh, I can’t loan you money,’ and the farmer says, ‘well that’s OK, I wont need it anyway.’ How do you get that lending company to say, ‘Whoa, Whoa, Whoa’?”
“’I won’t need it anyway,’ – that should be a red flag statement,” Lennon-Armas pointed out.
“But often, when people hear statements like that, they may become fearful and want to push it away,” Lennon-Armas explained. “We don’t want to have to look at that farmer and say, ‘Hey, I am worried about you, and I want to make sure you are OK. What can I do to help? Are you thinking of committing suicide?’”
“It needs to roll off the tongue of all of us in order to end the stigma,” she stated.
During the current debilitating water crisis and the possible loss of many farms, it’s more critical than ever to keep an eye on any farmer or farmworker who is grappling with understandably intense anxiety and stress. So, it’s important to know some of the signs that could indicate that someone in the farming community could be contemplating suicide.
Lennon-Armas, noted, “It’s really important to pay attention to the people around you and not make assumptions that their being quiet or not showing overt signs of being suicidal means they are OK.”
“Take notice if they are isolating themselves or you see a change in their routine, if they stop attending church, or they drop out of 4-H or FFA or other community organizations they might be involved in. If you start seeing some deterioration on the farm, how they are caring for their animals, an increase in farm accidents, these could all be red flags,” she said.
“An increase in farm accidents might mean that the farmer is depressed and not paying attention to the work they are doing, Lennon-Armas explained. “Maybe they are not sleeping well or they are increasing their use of alcohol or medications. It’s important to note that it is common for people to `self medicate’ themselves when they are depressed.”
“The farm worker population has the additional issues of cultural and language barriers and access to services or even awareness of services available,” Lennon-Armas explained. “While the stigma issues are slightly different, they are equally strong for farm owners and farm workers alike.”
“But at the end of the day, it is about providing support and access to information – saving just that one life,” she said. “We are not in the business of being popular when doing suicide prevention. Our job is to keep people alive long enough to where they are feeling more hope than despair.”