A Kentucky girl is raising awareness, and possibly saving lives, with words of wisdom well beyond her years. The LaRue County High School student recently brought lawmakers to tears testifying to bring awareness to a mental health crisis on American farms.
Sydney Pepper is a high school senior, Future Farmers of America member and recently won an essay contest with her “Letter to Dad” that focused on preventing suicides.
While she has personally never worried about her father, or experienced first-hand losing someone to suicide, her words have made an impact.
Last week she testified to a Kentucky House Committee considering making one day of Farm Safety Week a focus on the issue.
House Bill 59 sailed through committee then unanimously passed the House. It's headed to the Senate where Sydney expects to testify again.
"I've never experienced it, but my family is a farming family and I've seen the tough times that we've gone through," said Pepper. “I know that other people are out there hurting just like we were but they may handle it differently than we handled it and I want to bring emotion and bring attention to the fact that this is a serious issue going on right now int he agriculture community.”
“Farmers won't talk about this issue," said Dr. Deborah Reed of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. “They won't even talk about how much stress they're under, so she has helped give a voice to this and given permission for farm families to start having these difficult conversations they need to have to stay alive.”
Dr. Reed has studied the issue closely.
A CDC study found the farmer's suicide rate was 32.2 per 100,000 in 2015, a rate higher than twice the national average.
There's been some debate over the exact numbers since the survey did not take in all America states. Two other sources of that debate are that sometimes these suicides look like farming accidents and many farmers have to have second jobs to make ends meet and that second job is often listed as primary on death certificates.
“So around 47% of our farmers in Kentucky also may be school bus drivers or lawyers or some other occupation," said Dr. Reed.
She says markets, tariffs, weather and now, social media misinformation weigh heavy on those who feed America.
Dr. Reed and others hope that the wise words of this young woman will sow seeds of hope to those who need it most.
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