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Agriculture Producers & Mental Health Challenges

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June 19, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about agriculture producers and mental health challenges. Hello, I'm Amy Myers and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Amanda Stone, Mississippi State University Dairy Specialist, and Dr. David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension State Health Specialist. Dr. Buys, this turbulent agriculture industry puts extreme stress on farmers, especially those in dairy. Of course, millions of folks suffer from mental and emotional illness regardless of career choice, but do rural health issues differ from those in other areas?

David Buys: Yeah, there's no doubt that these days the mental and emotional health of people living in rural areas is getting the attention it's needed for a long time. I try to stay up to date on these things and I found RHI Hub or is a great place to do that. They recently pointed out that while the prevalence of mental illness is similar between rural and urban residents, the services available are very different. Mental health care needs are not met in many rural communities across the country because adequate services are not there.

The most recent data in fact shows that nine percent, basically nine percent of residents age 18 or older who live in rural areas had mental illness in 2017. That's about 6.8 million people. It's a smaller number, but it's very concerning that 4.9% or almost five percent of residents in these rural counties experience serious thoughts of suicide. And a recent report from the University of Kentucky shows the average rates for suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts were higher among residents of these rural areas compared to metro areas. So we've got to look at what's going on, and some of the big issues here, there's limited availability, meaning that rural residents often travel long ways to get the services they need. They're less likely to be insured for mental health services and they're less likely to recognize an illness and availability. It's also an issue. The availability means that there's overwhelming shortages of mental health professionals and mental health providers.

Another big issue we've got, Amy, is that of acceptability and really a stigma issue. We stigmatize those that need or receive mental health care and we've just really got to get through that.

Amanda Stone: Yeah and Amy, if I could add too that Dr. Buys is raising some really good points about the rural population, but I wanted to be sure that we talk about farmers specifically. The American Farm Bureau Federation recently released a poll that showed that 91% of farmers and farm workers said financial issues impact farmer's mental health and that nearly 88% are fears of losing the farm, and others said that there's more generalized stress, from the weather, economy, isolation, and the social stigma that Dr. Buys was referencing.

None of this is surprising, but what's fascinating is that farmers think that other people have more problems than them. So there's other people in the rural communities, the state suburban communities in the nation that are dealing with this, but really they are also. The poll showed the rural are more likely to say mental health is a major problem in urban areas and suburban communities than rural communities. In urban, it's 53%, suburban, 41%, and rural, 48%. More than half of all rural adults have either personally sought care or have a family member who has sought care for a mental health condition. So this suggests that we know we have a problem, but we don't really want to talk about it.

David Buys: I'm glad you brought those points up, Dr. Stone. For us in Extension, we should be able to make a real difference by helping our folks. Both extension agents and the clients we serve, part of it's just talking about it and normalizing the challenges that we all face.

Amy Myers: Dr. Stone, you had an experience with a person who confided in you about this issue. Would you mind briefly sharing that?

Amanda Stone: About four years ago, someone confided in me about thoughts of suicide. Looking back at this point, I know now that I didn't handle it in the best way for me or for him. If I had mental health first aid training before this happened, I know that I would have handled it differently and probably would have been more effective. Luckily and thankfully, he did not go through with doing that, but it could have been handled in a different way.

Amy Myers: What are some resources for farmers, producers, ag professionals, and other rural workers to turn to?

David Buys: Dr. Stone just referenced mental health first aid, and I'm proud to say that we've now got a whole cadre of folks trained through Extension to deliver mental health first aid training, and we actually have about a hundred of our agents trained as mental health first aiders. We're rolling out training for youth mental health first aider training for adults who work with youth, which will extend to our 4H volunteers across the state also.

Amy Myers: We will be discussing more about this in future segments. In the meantime, you can just do a google search for Mississippi State Extension Mental Health. Today we've been speaking with David Buys, State Health Specialist, also with Amanda Stone, Dairy Specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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