Mental Health Training for Rural Ohio and Agribusiness – Ohio Ag Net
By Matt Reese
It’s no secret that stress is part of life on the farm. The unique challenges of a family farm can place a tremendous burden on farmers who often have little control over the factors determining the success or failure of the operation which serves as family wealth, livelihoods and often times. ‘identity.
When times are tough, all too often the unthinkable happens. There has been an alarming trend in America where rural populations have a significantly higher suicide rate than urban areas. The information available indicates that the suicide rate among farmers is 3.5 times that of the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association.
With these staggering statistics in mind, efforts are being made to change the conversation about mental health in rural Ohio. This, of course, includes the agro-industrial community.
âThe Ohio AgriBusiness Association recognizes that employees at our member companies have deep personal relationships with their customers, which puts them in a unique position when it comes to identifying and helping farmers struggling with mental health issues, âsaid Chris Henney, president and CEO of the Ohio AgriBusiness Association. âIt’s important that they have the training and the resources to help. “
In 2021, members of the Ohio State University Mental Health Awareness Team were able to deliver mental health first aid training in rural Ohio. Mental Health First Aid is a skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and addiction issues, said Jami Dellifield, with Ohio State University Extension. The program is a blended format in partnership with the Ohio State University Agricultural and Rural Health Working Group with funding from the USDA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. The course was offered free of charge on March 5, April 2, May 7 and June 4, 2021. Additional courses will be offered on August 6 and October 1 from 10 am to 3:30 pm Register by sending an email to Bridget Britton in britton .191 @ osu.edu.
Kolt Buchenroth and Ty Higgins of Ohio Ag Net at the Ohio Farm Bureau took the course in May and were amazed at how much they learned.
âIt’s like taking CPR training or regular first aid training. There is nothing wrong with having first aid training for your brain. It teaches you what to look for, what to listen to, and what you can do to get help. Just watch a few videos, make the zoom call, and take the test. Then you print the certificate and you’re good to go, âBuchenroth said. âI hope that agro-industries can take advantage of this training and that anyone at the local elevator, cafe or bank can understand the signs, maybe before the farmer knows them. Every year we talk about farm safety. Your brain is an organ like any other. If you fall and break a bone, you’re going to get treatment. It is no different.
The people involved in Ohio’s food businesses are in a unique position to help.
âFew people have the opportunity to visit farmers on the same level as we do. Farming has not been the easiest, especially over the past two decades. We have seen farmer suicides increase by 40% over the past 20 years. This is obviously a subject that requires a lot more discussion. It’s something people have whispered about since I was a kid, âHiggins said. âI went through the crisis of the mid-1980s when farmers had to decide whether to continue farming or do something else and in some cases they saw no way out of farming and chose to end their life because of what was going on in their farm.
The training provided a better understanding of mental health, an understanding of the signs to look out for and ways to deal with difficult conversations.
âIf you can go to a farmer and visit him and maybe ask the right question, maybe you can help him. If you can save a farmer’s life or change the way they think to get out of a situation they find themselves in, this training is worth it. It was about a day and a half of training. I learned a lot more than I thought I would, âHiggins said. âThere were a lot of uncomfortable conversations. The hardest part for me is that they asked us to say out loud, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” I have chills now. You have to get used to saying these things out loud. You have to get used to being direct with someone who might be down a path that might not be healthy. I said it in my head first. They said, “Now say it out loud” and I couldn’t. When you hear it coming out of your mouth, the sound is very different from what you hear in your head. I hope I never have to ask this question in a conversation with a farmer, but if I do, boy, I’m ready now. It was the hardest part for me, however, to ask this question out loud. What scares me is the answer that might come back. These are tough conversations, but they’re conversations we need to have. “
Through the training, Higgins is able to leverage his years of experience and understanding of the Ohio farming community and pair it with what the experts understand when it comes to mental health.
âWe all have farmers calling us on their cell phones to talk about whatever they have on their mind. I had conversations with farmers when I hung up the phone and said, “Dude, I hope I handled this well.” With this training, I now know how to handle situations like this. Anyone who needs to call me, call me. It will be between you and me and the pole. You have to get rid of it. I’m here to listen, âHiggins said. âI have so much respect for every farmer I’ve worked with and I’m ready to be there for you and give you the help you need. We have to understand that a farmer can ask a different question and we have to speak up and do our job. Farmers are more than their farm. They are a father, a brother, a mother, an aunt, a grandparent. They are more than what they do in this tractor.
It is important to understand the signs of mental illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it may be helpful to follow up with a mental health professional if more than one of the following occurs: disturbed sleep or appetite, mood swings, withdrawal, decreased functioning in the body. school, work or social activities, problems thinking and concentrating, heightened sensitivity, loss of initiative or desire to participate in an activity, feeling of disconnection, illogical thinking, nervousness or unusual behavior.
Even though some of the big challenges in farming have improved, there is still great potential for mental health issues within Ohio farming communities.
âThings are going pretty well right now, but a lot of what is happening in mental health may have started years ago. It sits down and gets angry when they are alone in the cab of the combine. This is going to continue to be a problem for farmers, âHiggins said. âIt’s not our job to put them on a couch to talk about their feelings. We just need to understand what to look for when we speak with farmers and be a conduit for the help they might need and break that stigma. Stigma is a huge problem in agriculture when it comes to mental health. We’re starting to drill into that a bit.
For the American Farm Bureau’s mental health resources, visit farmstateofmind.org. Farmers and their families can contact a mental health care provider or visit the Ohio Department of Agriculture #gotyourback resource page on gotyourback.org. If you are experiencing a crisis, call a free, confidential crisis line at 1-800-273-8255, or text “4hope” at 741741. Visit go.osu.edu/agcrisis for additional resources. In case of emergency, dial 911.