The U.S. House recently passed a piece of legislation designed to tackle the growing rate of suicide in rural communities across the country. The Seeding Rural Resilience Act is supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who say the goal is to promote mental wellness and mental health awareness in rural America.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall recently endorsed the bill, noting that a big challenge in the effort to address farmers’ mental health is the stigma that often surrounds the issue. He shares his own personal experience of dealing with the death of his wife earlier this year in January and how talking about it helped him. “The truth is, sharing what you’re going through is a sign of strength, not weakness, because you have the courage to put yourself out there and get the help you need, and possibly even help others by showing it’s OK to talk about it.” You can read his full post over at Farm Bureau HERE.

Rural America accounts for an outsized portion of the country’s suicides. From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates grew in nearly all 50 states but according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the suicide rate is +45% higher in rural areas than in urban areas.  Urban areas see just over 11 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people per year according to statistics by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That rate nearly doubles in rural communities. And mental health professionals worry that rate will increase with the compounded problems agriculture is grappling with.

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act would do the following:

  • Implement a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that requires 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.
  • Form a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and USDA 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.
  • Direct the secretary of agriculture to work with state, local and non-government stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

In doing research for this story, I ran across some information from Courtney Cuthbertson, assistant professor and University of Illinois Extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. He says he’s heard stories of farmers who would drive three hours to a mental health seminar but not because there wasn’t one closer. They didn’t want their neighbors to know.

That stigma around mental health was a motivating force behind a newly released free online course, “Rural Resilience: Farm Stress Training.” As Cuthbertson explains, there is an overall lack of mental health care in rural communities. The goal of the course is to teach participants to identify signs and symptoms of stress and suicide, reduce the stigma of needing help, and connect farmers and ranchers with resources that might be able to help. “This is a way to train people to be a resource and help someone recognize and navigate stressful times.”

The course is available through a partnership between University of Illinois Extension and Michigan State University Extension, with support from Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union. Cuthbertson developed the course collaboratively with MSU Extension. To learn more about the classes and enroll for free, click HERE.

Other resources for those faces challenges can also find support at the National Farmers Union’s Farm Crisis Center and the American Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind resource page. The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). (Sources: Review Atlas, Feedstuffs, Farm Credit)

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