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Serving: IL

Extension backs new mental health website targeted at farmers

Holly Spangler scenic farmstead
MENTAL HEALTH: While difficult to quantify, depression, anxiety and suicide are more prevalent among agricultural populations than the general public, says U of I’s Josie Rudolphi.
Check out farmstress.org for information on managing and treating depression, anxiety and stress in ag communities.

Looking for mental health support for farmers and the greater agricultural community? Check out the new website farmstress.org.

“May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so it’s an opportune time to unveil this website that will serve as a clearinghouse for stress and mental health resources for anyone experiencing stress related to the many challenges of farming,” says Josie Rudolphi, University of Illinois Extension specialist.

Related: Stress management: What's more stressful than planting?

The website is designed to offer available resources, research and support, sorted by state and topic, through the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center. The center is a 12-state collaborative based at U of I that works to expand access to and knowledge of mental health resources. The 12-state north-central region includes Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

While difficult to quantify, depression, anxiety and suicide are more prevalent among agricultural populations than the general public, Rudolphi says.

Related: Stress: What helps right now?

Like corn plants dealing with too much cold and rainy weather, farmers can reach a tipping point with their stress loads, too. “There are healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms,” Rudolphi says.

Plus, COVID-19 has added to the normal stress load with disrupted supply chains, the need to keep workers safe, interrupted school systems and general difficulties in rural communities.

Rudolphi offers four ways to cope with stress:

1. Avoid. Avoiding stress is the best coping method, if it’s possible. Plan ahead or change your expectations. Ask: What causes me stress, and how can I avoid it?

2. Accept. Accepting that situations are out of your control frees up energy so you can focus on what you can control. Accept the emotions and feelings you experience. Rudolphi says farmers have a lot outside of their control that they might feel a burden to carry anyway, such as markets, weather, results of COVID-19. “We can’t control any of this. When you realize you can’t fight it, it frees up energy,” she says. Ask: Am I able to control this?

3. Adapt. Adapting may include changing expectations. In extreme stress, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Reframe and look for the silver lining. Ask: How can I adapt to situations?

4. Alleviate. Some strategies are healthier than others. Substance abuse, binge drinking and binge eating are not healthy strategies. Hobbies, exercise, relaxation and diversion (TV, for example) are healthy ones. “If you’re having an extremely difficult time, consider what would improve your mood, and whatever that is — assuming it’s healthy and legal — is something you should try to do,” Rudolphi says. Ask: What can improve my mood right now?

Illinois Extension is holding a mental health webinar on June 29, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., called Mental Health First Aid for the Agriculture Community. The conference will cover mental illness symptoms, substance use signs and addictions, crisis interaction, trauma and self-care.

TAGS: Rural Health
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