By Julene Reese
The economic outlook for farmers and ranchers has worsened in recent years. After peaking around 2012, farm sector income declined while farm debt continued to rise, according to a USDA publication.
At the same time, agricultural families and communities were also struggling with mental health challenges, contributing to higher rates of suicide among farmers. In 2017, 38,000 of those who were in the working ages of 16 to 64 died by suicide in the U.S. Of those, 36.1% were in an agricultural-related field of work.
“There are many stressful factors for agricultural producers, often out of their control, that can become frustrating and overwhelming, including natural disasters, extreme weather, financial pressures due to fluctuating commodity prices, labor shortages, relationship challenges, and balancing family and work life,” said Josh Dallin, Utah State University Extension assistant professor. “Add to that a general reluctance for farmers and ranchers to reveal what they perceive as a weakness in admitting their struggles, and it can become a crisis for them.”
Dallin said to help farmers and ranchers with these challenges, USU Extension created the Agriculture Wellness Program in 2020 to provide mental health resources for members of the agricultural community.
The Agriculture Wellness Program includes vouchers for behavioral health care services through a partnership with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food and USU Extension. The vouchers will pay up to $2,000 for mental/behavioral health services or family counseling, available to individuals and families with or without health insurance.
Counseling topics include anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, bipolar disorder, grief, insomnia, mood swings, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship challenges, stress, substance use disorders and others. Healthcare providers interested in participating can find further information about the voucher program on the website.
Dallin said to date, the vouchers have helped 70 individuals across the state and covered approximately $60,000 in behavioral health expenses.
The Ag Wellness Podcast, another part of the program, explores mental health in farming and ranching communities. Podcast moderators Dallin and Jacob Hadfield, also a USU Extension assistant professor, share stories about the impact of mental health challenges and help on where to go for resources and information. All episodes can be found on the podcast website.
In addition are two free online courses. The Ag Wellness Course helps participants learn skills to manage stress and improve well-being through self-guided learning modules. The Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy for Ag Course helps participants learn how to identify mental health concerns, locate community resources that help treat mental health issues, and develop skills to refer someone experiencing a mental health challenge to the appropriate resources.
“We are excited to have this helpful Extension program and see the positive changes it can make for those in agriculture who need mental health assistance,” said Hadfield. “Though many of them perceive it is a weakness to admit they are struggling, it is just the opposite. Having the ability to admit we need help is truly a strength, not a weakness.”
Additional members of the Extension Agriculture Wellness Program team include Sadie Wilde, Ashely Butler, April Litchford and Kari Ure. For further information about the program, visit the Extension Ag Wellness contact page to reach out to team members.