Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown that American workers in the farming, fishing and forestry industries have some of the highest suicide rates of any professional group.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is taking steps to address mental health in rural communities.
Brittney Schrick, assistant professor of family life for the Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said her department is implementing two new programs to discuss the rising rate of suicide among agriculturalists.
“In response to the CDC report, our team became aware of a program developed at North Dakota State University intended to address stress and promote wellness with a rural audience in mind,” she said. “Mental health awareness is important in order to help county agents address the problem of rural stress from a fully informed perspective and to generally increase their knowledge of mental health.”
Managing Stress and Pursuing Wellness in Times of Tight Margins, or “Farm Stress” for short, is a one-hour program facilitated by county Family and Consumer Science agents and geared toward farmers and other agriculture workers.
“The aim of the Farm Stress program is increasing awareness of rural stress issues and warning signs of stress challenges, identifying ways to communicate about and cope with stress, and identifying local resources and sources of support,” Schrick said. “This program offers participants information about stress management, depression and suicide, as well as wellness promotion.”
The second program, Mental Health First Aid training, is an eight-hour, evidence-based course that will be offered to Cooperative Extension Service agents with the goal of equipping them to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The program builds mental health literacy and helps participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.
Mental Health First Aid will be offered to agents in regional training sessions beginning in May. There are currently three trainings scheduled, open to both county and state staff.
The Farm Stress program has already begun, as agents publicize it at county production meetings and other venues. Schrick’s team has supplied county agents with materials to conduct the program in their home counties. This will be available statewide upon request to local county agents.
“County agents are very excited about the Farm Stress program,” Schrick said. “We have had very positive feedback and lots of materials requests from agents who are publicizing and scheduling programs in their counties.”
Schrick said the spread of mental health awareness has the potential to help many in a demographic that is often seen as independent and self-sufficient.
“My hope is to see improvement in wellness across Arkansas’ agriculture workers and families, and decreased rates of suicide and depression in this population,” she said. “Removing the stigma around stress and mental health can have lasting and wide-reaching impact.”