Mental health issues don’t stop at the city limits. They reach into the country, affecting farmers and ranchers.
According to University of Missouri Extension, 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness during their lifetimes. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and MU and Show-Me Farm Safety recently released a new Together We Can toolkit to help rural Missourians access mental health resources.
“Economic uncertainties, changes in commodity prices and ongoing weather issues add to the daily stresses of farming and ranching,” says Karen Funkenbusch, MU Extension health and safety specialist. “Stressors during COVID-19, including social isolation, financial insecurities and other health concerns, can mount.”
Rural Missourians sometimes encounter barriers to receiving timely help because mental health services may not be available in all rural counties, Funkenbusch says. Additionally, many farm families lack adequate insurance coverage for mental health services.
The University of Missouri — along with partners AgrAbility, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, FFA, 4-H, Missouri Farm Bureau, the State Highway Patrol, and the Missouri’s state departments of Agriculture, Labor, Mental Health and Transportation — put together a toolkit to help farmers and ranchers get information and seek help.
The Together We Can toolkit points out the following regarding mental health in rural Missouri:
Suicide is increasing in rural Missouri. Between 2003 and 2017, the suicide rate among rural Missourians grew by 78%, and throughout the past decade, hospital emergency department visits for suicide attempts or ideation increased 177%. Suicide prevention specialists and behavioral or mental health care providers talk about the importance of suicide prevention among farmers and ranchers in this video: https://youtu.be/rWDSKCnZWDA.
Farming is a stressful business. Farming typically requires long hours in predominantly isolated working conditions. Farmers tend to live in communities where access to behavioral or mental health care is limited by distance, stigma or cost because of insurance status.
Fewer health services. Rural communities may have limited access to health care services, which can make it difficult for farm and ranch families to receive support when they experience a behavioral or mental health crisis. Poor mental health can make it difficult to manage other common stressors.
Stress seeps. Stress can affect all aspects of life, including emotions, behaviors, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune. Everyone has stress, and a moderate amount of stress is normal. Read more about the different types of stress and how they can affect you as an individual at extension.missouri.edu.
Tackle mental health stigma. Many rural Missourians and farmers do not seek behavioral or mental health care because of the fear of embarrassment to themselves or their family. This same audience also recognizes the need to #BreaktheStigma surrounding behavioral or mental health care. Stigma may not directly affect you, but it may prevent the 1 in 5 Americans with behavioral or mental health conditions from seeking help. Rural, agricultural communities can be highly influenced by stigma. Take the StigmaFree quiz to see if you might be affected at nami.org.
“In collaboration with our partners, our Together We Can toolkit provides resources to support the mental health and well-being of our farmers, ranchers and their families,” Funkenbusch says. “With increased pressures on today’s farmers, we want to let farmers know there are ways to fight stigma and provide a safe environment to address mental health concerns.”
Missouri’s Together We Can campaign runs through May 29. Weekly topics are Referral Resources, May 9-15; Recognizing Signs & Symptoms, May 16-22; and Managing Stress, May 23-29.