PROMISE destigmatizes the mental health of farmers – Picayune Item

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By Erica Hensley

For MSU extension service

Colby Hardin has managed his depression since being diagnosed at 18. With medication, he kept it under control throughout college, while working on the Mississippi State University dairy farm.

He fell in love with dairy work and after graduation took a job managing a 300 unit dairy farm in an Arkansas prison. The stressors of working seven days a week in a high security environment exacerbated her depression and caused new symptoms. He began to self-medicate with alcohol to help him relax after long days on the farm, but he quickly needed more and more each day to relax.

Hardin didn’t get help because he didn’t know where to go, and no one – including his family doctor – acknowledged his symptoms for the mental health crisis they were presenting. Through the PROMISE initiative, PREVENT Opioid Abuse in the South East, MSU extension workers are embarking on statewide ‘mental health first aid‘ training to recognize and ‘intervene on the mental health needs of farmers like Hardin. The program teaches officers how to recognize signs of mental health or substance use problems in farming communities, offer and provide initial help, and refer people in need to professional services.

Today, the 29-year-old has been sober for over two years and is back at MSU, as an assistant dairy farmer for the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. He says without the support of his colleagues at MSU and their persistence in getting him psychological help, he would not be here today.

After years of silent suffering, a colleague finally helped him enroll in a crisis stabilization unit through Community Counseling Services – a community mental health center that aims to meet people where they are. are found. For Hardin, that meant a week’s hospital stay to speed recovery.

“He was the only one asking me, what’s wrong?” Are you okay? “Hardin said of his coworker who helped him get treatment.” It was just me and him in the truck and I broke down and told him , buddy, I’m doing my best, but I need some help. “

Through therapy, Hardin is said to be facing depression, alcohol and pill use disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to the events on the prison farm.

Substance use disorders, or addiction, affect farm families at higher rates than the general population. More recently, as opioids ravaged the country, three quarters of agricultural workers were affected by an opioid use disorder.

Although uncertainty reigns in agriculture, the industry has recently experienced a clash of factors that created a perfect storm. Between the turmoil in commodity prices, extreme weather events and supply chain cutbacks linked to COVID, 2020 has pushed some farming communities – already prone to stress – into further chaos.

Three in four farmers say opioids are readily available, but only a third say the same about treatment for mental health or addiction. When Hardin first sought mental health care, his family doctor prescribed only sedatives. “And that was it,” he says. “This was the extent of helping a serious mental crisis in a rural community. No advice or recommendations for therapy, just pills.

MSU Extension steps in to connect farmers like Hardin to mental health resources before a crisis hits.

“In Colby’s story, there was a friend and colleague who contacted him to put him in touch with care. We want our officers and others to feel equipped to do the same – to reach out to those around them who may be in trouble, ”said David Buys, associate professor at MSU.

of the Department of Food Sciences, Nutrition and Health Promotion and MSU Extension State Health Specialist. “It’s hard to take that first step and ask them if they’re okay, but Colby’s story shows how important and powerful this question can be.”

During the month of May for mental health awareness nationwide, the Farm Bureau Federation worked to de-stigmatize mental health issues and substance use disorders, with the goal of initiate conversations and help those in need find resources.

Mike McCormick, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, said the collaboration between Extension and Farm Bureau was a natural fit. Both are found in all 82 counties of Mississippi and have a vested interest in helping farmers find the mental health resources they need, but they may not know where to find them.

“The farmer suffers a lot in silence because he doesn’t want to open up and show this vulnerability,” he said. “Farm Bureau, along with the State of Mississippi and other organizations are trying to point people in the right direction and just spread the story that you don’t have to suffer in silence. “

Back at the MSU Dairy Farm, Hardin says he feared disclosure of his mental health issues would turn into a weakness and jeopardize the job he loves, adding that he delayed getting too long. for help, as his problems worsened because of it. He now knows the opposite was true: It was co-workers who helped him get and stay sober.

By sharing his story, he hopes to encourage others to come forward to confront their mental health and take action to recover.

“The stigma of drug addiction and psychiatric care once worried me along with people in our agricultural industry,” he said. “I believe we all fight battles in our own way and in the rural community I grew up in, it might be seen as weak to ask for help.”

If you or someone you know is having trouble, access the 24/7 Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741 and find more Farm Bureau resources here: https: / /msfb.org/mental-health/.

To learn more about MSU PROMISE, visit: http://extension.msstate.edu/the-promise-initiative.

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