Mental health among farmers and the greater rural population have come more into focus lately.
A local Congresswoman is working to make sure needed health care access is available for farmers.
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, DFL-Minnesota who represents Northfield and parts of the southern metro, is co-leading the bill with New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi. The bill, which is currently being discussed at the committee level, would implement a farmer employee training program requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service employees.
The bill would form a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to create a $3 million public service announcement to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities. If passed, the secretary of agriculture would be directed to work with state, local and non-governmental stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.
Craig, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said farmers around her district have cited the trade war, extreme weather and low commodity prices as having adverse impacts on their operations.
She noted 15% of Rice County dairy farms have been forced to close in the last six years. The overall suicide rate is estimated to have increased 40% from 1999-2017, with the increase even higher in rural areas
“It’s unbelievable,” Craig said.
According to the National Farmers Union, in 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study suggesting those in farming, fishing and forestry professions experienced a suicide rate nearly five times that of the general population. Another University of Iowa study found that between 1992 and 2010, farmers and ranchers had a suicide rate that was, on average, 3.5 times that of the general population.
Craig and other farming professionals say the bill helps equip people who see farmers the most to recognize the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
“There is nothing wrong for asking for help if you need it,” she said.
Craig framed the bill as a fight addressing insufficient mental health resources in rural communities.
“I’ve talked with farmers whose families have farmed on the same land for generations describe the stress inflicted by the current farm crisis,” she said. “Earlier this year I held a roundtable focused on rural mental health in Wabasha, and I’ve also walked with farmers on their land as they describe the sense of isolation that can set in with uncertain markets and low commodity prices. I understand that right now we must expand mental health resources to support Minnesota farmers, and I’m proud to expand resources that meet farmers where they live.”
In a press release, Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said consistently low commodity prices, unpredictable weather and the trade war have made farming, already considered a stressful profession, even more so. He said the bill would help farmers bridge the gap and get needed mental health support.
Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap said in the press release the bill would provide needed resources to help farmers respond to stress and decrease the stigma associated with mental health in rural communities.
“MFBF appreciates Rep. Craig’s leadership in recognizing that there are many challenges out of our control that farmers and ranchers face on a daily basis,” Paap said. “Farmers understand we can’t change what has happened in the past. But we can change how we accept and respond moving forward. To do that successfully, there needs to be access to tools, resources and support systems which this bill provides.”