Minnesota hotline works to improve the mental health of small farmers

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Most of Main Street in Dexter, Iowa is permanently closed. Fourth-generation farmer Barb Kalbach follows her journey to her husband Jim’s workshop.

“Rural Iowa’s drain is next, square mile by square mile,” she told CBS News.

Part of what she sees is a major decline in small farms. About 90% of small farms in the region have closed, unable to survive declining profits, climate change and corporate farming, the Kalbachs told CBS News.

And it’s not just Iowa — over the past two decades, more than 100,000 small farms have disappeared in America.

The Kalbachs own one of the few remaining family farms in Dexter.

“The last 20 years have been terrible,” Jim Kalbach told CBS News. “You have to be very big or you just forget. Five hundred acres won’t be enough anymore – you need 5,000.”

Those who remain are barely holding on. Farmer suicide rates have soared 40% in less than two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has started a hotline to help you.

Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline worker Cre Larsen told CBS News that his team answers about 30,000 calls a year.

“Some of the farmers are calling in the middle of the night,” Larsen added. “Two in the morning on their tractor, trying to plow, ’cause they know the seeding has to happen – ‘Can you just talk to me? Can you help keep me awake?'”

The most urgent calls are being answered by Ted Matthews, who once led the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mental health response.

“The first call, they’re very shy,” Matthews told CBS News. “They don’t know if they should have called.”

Matthews also said: “It’s overwhelming to see how difficult things are in farming,” adding: “There’s not a minute that a farmer doesn’t feel stressed. There’s always something going on. something that could go wrong.”

Matthews said the number of farmer suicides in Minnesota has started to drop as more farmers call and go online.

“This idea that you have to get so bad to see a therapist is stupid,” Matthews said. “Why wouldn’t you want to be healthier?” »


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or in a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on mental health care resources and support, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email [email protected]

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