MISSOULA – Agriculture and animal husbandry can be difficult industries even when everything is going well.
So when a pandemic, climate change and inflation strike at the same time, you can only imagine the stress of those tasked with putting food on the table. This stress can have devastating consequences for farmers and ranchers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that farmers and ranchers are among the most likely to die by suicide compared to other occupations, and suicide rates overall have increased by 40% in less than two decades.
“Dick Tyler was a farmer from Big Sandy who had lived and worked on his family farm since he was 12 years old.” Polished and polished – teenage Gus Turner recites Tyler’s story without missing a beat.
“After 60 years of farming, he began to see himself as a burden and unnecessary on the operation of the farm. His only solution was to drown in the farm tank, ”Turner recalls.
He recited the story in competitions across the region for the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-Hs. Now, with a handful of accolades, it’s clear he’s done his research on Dick Tyler’s story and why the story matters.
“My topic was about suicide and farmers, especially in rural Montana. It’s a super undisclosed topic and people don’t really talk about it. It’s a sad reality we live in that no one talks about it because so much of America’s livelihood is farming. “- Gus Turner
Upon learning about the life of Dick Tyler, Turner fell into a world of research, “the farmer is 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the average person,” he noted.
The research turned into a discourse that he uses to raise awareness and destigmatize the topic of mental health among farmers and ranchers.
“It’s kind of a horrible thing, and it’s buried under layers of hardy individualist farmers who aren’t there emotionally, and you don’t really see it, so it’s hidden,” he said. Turner explained.
Turner is not the only Montanan race to solve this problem. In fact, there is a whole department that sheds light on the difficulties of life in agriculture.
“It’s been a tough year for a lot of people. You know, whether it’s the locusts or the drought or just the volatility of the industry in general. You know, it hasn’t been easy, ”noted Andy Fjeseth of the Montana Department of Agriculture.
The department secured a $ 500,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in July. The goal isn’t too different from that of Missoula teenager Gus Turner.
“What we’re hoping with this program is that we can promote that it’s okay to talk about these things, and that, you know, the producer is really the most important part of the operation, and then connecting those people with the services that are needed. ” – Andy Fjeseth, MT Dept. of Agriculture
Fjeseth says the program will work in three parts. One is to provide vouchers to farmers and ranchers in Montana for free and confidential counseling services. Second, funding for workshops and speakers on mental health. Finally, a campaign to de-stigmatize mental health services for farmers and herders.
“If we can start from a place where it’s not as stigmatized as it used to be and help break down those barriers, then hopefully we can help solve the problem,” Fjeseth concluded.
As the Montana Department of Agriculture finalizes the details of counseling services, efforts are underway for workshops on mental health. Those interested in getting involved can visit https://agr.mt.gov/ or contact the ministry directly at 406-444-3144.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential. People will be linked to a counselor in their area. You can also visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for more information.