Addressing mental health in rural America during commodity slump

Updated: Oct. 30, 2019 at 9:22 PM CDT
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RED WING, Minn. (KEYC) — Farmers and ranchers are stuck in a widespread commodity slump adding stress to an already stressful agricultural climate, making the need for rural mental health services dire.

A Minnesota dairy farmer shared her story last week at the National Farm Viability Conference in Red Wing along with her efforts to get a handle on rural mental health.

“Rural America is hurting and it’s not just economically, it’s emotionally,” said Deborah Mills of Mills Dairy.

A research poll supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation conducted this year states that 91% of farmers are experiencing financial stress, 88% are having farm business problems and 89% have fear of losing the farm.

“And what does that really mean, fear of losing the farm? It means you’re losing your legacy, it’s losing your history, it’s losing your heritage, it’s losing, not just a business, it’s your home, it’s everything,” said Mills.

Mills shared her story about the night she was overwhelmed with hopelessness when she went out to feed calves.

“As hard as we were working, nothing was changing, economic reality of stagnant milk prices, rising costs, disappearing profit margins, lack of credit for crop inputs, a brutally cold winter and living through the worst farm crisis of our lives,” said Mills.

Mills used her voice and her own personal experience to become a voice for mental health in rural communities to get to the bottom of the mental health crisis.

“I talked to my husband about this, I said, what made the 1980′s farm crisis different than today? Well, the difference was commiseration, but commiseration what it really is, is people talking to each other,” said Mills.

Minnesota currently has two rural mental health specialists and the need for rural mental health professionals is nationwide.

“I definitely sense a lot of stress, I work with farmers that are in their late 50s and young farmers, and they all have the same stress,” said farm business advisor that works in California, Deborah Nares.

“But somehow, over the 80s and now, we’ve morphed into this culture of don’t talk about anything and it’s not healthy to do that at all,” said Mills.

The American Farm Bureau Federation research poll stated that only 31% of farmers have reached out for help.

A direct link to Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline professionals is attached here.

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