Mental Health First Aid for Farmers

The National Farmers Union’s 118th Anniversary Convention gathered family farmers, ranchers, and industry professionals at the Hyatt Regency Savannah in Georgia, earlier this March. This is an annual opportunity for family farmers from across the country to come together to learn, collaborate, and grow through discussions, brainstorming, and breakout sessions. While I didn’t have the time to attend the entire conference, I did have the chance to participate in the Farm Stress Training offered to members from multiple states. 

As part of the organization’s broader initiative to address a growing farm stress crisis and ever rising suicide rates for growers and producers, NFU partnered with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, Michigan State University Extension and Mental Health First Aid to host a two-day session to train more than 30 Farmers Union members from 19 states to be community mental health advocates across the country. 

This training prepared participants to both recognize and respond to signs of stress and suicide as well as teach others to do the same. Farming can be an incredibly high-stress career. Fickle weather, crop disease or total failure, capricious markets, burdensome workloads, and social isolation are just a few of the challenges that farmers are enduring. However, with steadily decreasing market prices, the climate crisis, trade volatility, not to mention the recent CoVid-19 outbreak, times have been particularly hard on farmers and it’s taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

According to NFU, “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 percent of rural Americans live in areas with mental health professional shortages.”

Here are just a few of the resources shared at the training:

Suicide Hotline:
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
1-800-799-4TYY (4889) for the hearing and speech impaired
• The Trevor Project: Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention for LGBTQ Adolescents
Traumatic Stress Resources/ Information
National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI NC Helpline: 1-899-950-6264
Mental Health America

And while this training is just the first step in addressing these often overwhelming statistics and real people struggling with depression and anxiety, we hope this training will continue to reduce the stigma related to mental health concerns, and help connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources they so desperately need. 

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for northeast Michigan and the Statewide Sales Supervisor. She enjoys reading with her seven year old, planting and hiking in the dirt, cooking up her own recipes, drinking farmhouse cider, and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). She owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family and is a founding member and V.P. of the NE Michigan Food & Farming Network. Contact her at [email protected]