INDIANA, USA — Troubles in the agriculture community have led many farmers to struggle with their mental health.
Data from a 2016 CDC study shows suicide rates in agriculture occupations were 1.3 times the national average for male workers.
It’s an industry that has consistently had a higher rate of deaths by suicide than others.
But a $500,000 grant awarded to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture could make strides towards bringing struggling farmers the help they need.
The department is partnering with the Indiana Rural Health Association and Purdue Extension to put on 23 community workshops across Indiana. The meetings will bring much-needed resources to these communities.
“A lot of those [meetings] are really going to shake up rural communities that aren’t talking about their mental health right now,” Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Orange County Abby Heidenreich said.
The goal is to start a conversation and let people know that it’s okay to ask for help, as well as how they can ask.
“How do we access care, how do we utilize the care that does exist, what telehealth options are available, does our broadband access support telehealth options and how can we destigmatize getting that help and support each other,” Heidenreich said.
These three organizations are also working on rolling out a mental health hotline with training programs for farmers and rural communities, as well as training call center workers to provide specific support to those in rural communities.
Before COVID, one in five Hoosiers struggled with mental health or addiction, and farmers are included in that population.
Both the geographic isolation and isolation caused by the pandemic are affecting rural communities. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch says this grant could not have come at a better time.
“Within the farming community and to farmers, not having control over the weather, not having control over the prices, not having control over the international or national policies, that brings into their lives a sense of uncertainty and anxiety,” Lt. Gov. Crouch said.
Terry Vissing owns a farm in Clark County and recognizes these stressors. They cost a friend his life.
“The young fella just got into debt too heavy, and he had four children and just the stress levels of being in debt and everything else associated with living just got to him, and he committed suicide,” Vissing said.
It came as a shock to Vissing, who did not realize his friend was struggling. Now, he and his circle have those tough conversations about mental health – and ensure that isolation never becomes too much.
“We all sort of look out for each other,” Vissing said.
The agencies involved in using this grant hope that education about mental health also helps farmers recognize the support systems that exist around them.