SIUE program highlights call for more mental health support for farmers

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EDWARDSVILLE — When most people sit down to enjoy a meal, they may not give much thought to the work farmers have done to provide that food.

But a combination of factors, including a spell of cool, wet weather, made this spring a particularly stressful time for farmers across Illinois.

Stress-related mental issues for farmers were the main topic at a press conference Thursday at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II and other officials were on hand to discuss the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI), which was created in Illinois to specifically address the needs mental health of farm and farming communities.

Led by Southern Illinois University School Medicine, FFRI began in 2019 as a pilot program in six counties. Funded by a USDA grant, it expanded to all 102 counties in Illinois in 2021.


During the last legislative session, the General Assembly allocated an additional $500,000 to ensure the program remains operational in all 102 counties through fiscal year 2023.

“We have to recognize the fact that sometimes there is a stigma around seeking mental health assistance,” Costello said. “Anything we can do to try to get rid of this stigma and try to help farmers and people in rural communities is important.

“This particular program (FFRI) is anonymous. It used to be a call-only feature at 1-833-FARMSOS (833-327-6767), but now we also have an email feature and a text feature. There are also six free counseling sessions that a farmer can follow through a telemedicine type program.

Costello noted that Illinois ranks first in the nation in soybean, pumpkin and horseradish production, and also ranks second in corn production and fourth in pork production.

At the same time, a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) shows that a strong majority of farmers/agricultural workers believe that financial problems (91%), fear of losing the farm (87%) and Farming or business issues (88%) impact farmers’ mental health.

“Knowing how important agriculture is to the state of Illinois, there is something else that we need to recognize and talk about, and that is the level of stress that farmers in Illinois are experiencing. “Costello said. “May is Mental Health Month and it’s also Planting Heartland in Illinois.”

Inflation, rising gasoline prices and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have added to stress levels for farmers and their families.

The weather of recent weeks, meanwhile, has created another cause for concern.

As of this week, only 15% of corn has been planted in all of Illinois, compared to a five-year average of 58%. Only 11% of soybeans were planted, compared to a five-year average of 30%.

“There are a number of farmers out there who are playing catch-up because they finally got some decent weather,” Costello said. “But with that catch-up comes a lot of stress.”

Thursday’s press conference at SIUE was the third of seven stops across the state for Costello, who is joined by a variety of politicians who have backed the Farm Family Resource Initiative.

Among those is State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), who discussed the importance of providing mental health assistance to farmers.

“In all aspects of life, people need mental health care, and that’s so important because you want to know that when you ask for help, someone is going to understand the uniqueness of the situation. you find yourself in as a farmer,” Stuart said. . “We have more and more extreme weather conditions and circumstances that are hampering the planting process.

“This is an amazing project and initiative, and we thank our partners at the SIU School of Medicine and the University of Illinois Extension. It’s always great to work with partners like this and SIU as a system does great things.

SIU President Dan Mahony commended the partnership between the SIU School of Medicine, the University of Illinois Extension and the State of Illinois in creating a new resource for farmers.

“SIU has its roots in rural Illinois and it’s a big part of our history,” Mahony said. “Last summer, we created the Institute for Rural Health, which is focused on expanding our efforts to support farm families.

“The past two years during the pandemic have exacerbated mental health needs across the region. We are proud to be part of this initiative and very grateful for the support we receive from the Legislature, including Rep. Stuart, and the Governor’s administration, including Director Costello. Farm groups across the state have rallied in this effort.

Karen Stallman is an Agricultural Resource Specialist for FFRI, which is managed by the Center for Rural Health and Human Services Development at the SIU School of Medicine.

Stallman thinks the mental and financial pressures facing farmers today are the toughest in four decades.

“The 1980s were a very stressful time for our producers, but it’s also a very stressful time,” Stallman said. “Studies from the American Farm Bureau Federation have shown that stress (on farmers) has increased over the past year, especially during the pandemic.

“What we see so often with farmers is that there are so many variables they can’t control, like the weather and the market. What is unique to farmers is that they deal with these uncontrollable variables day in and day out. It weighs heavily on people, and then there’s the added stress of the pandemic, where they may have had a spouse who suddenly became unemployed, and they had children at home.

Supply chain issues, which have affected almost every industry, are also affecting farmers.

“We’re farming about an hour south of here and we’re having trouble getting parts and chemicals,” Stallman said. “The pandemic has certainly had a direct effect, and we’re seeing a big increase in stress, and now we’re adding in this weather that we’ve been dealing with this spring. It’s a combination of all of these stresses that makes it very difficult.

Stallman, like Costello, hopes the anonymous nature of the FFRI helpline will encourage farmers to seek mental health assistance if they feel the need.

“It’s often hard for people to realize that they have challenges and struggles, especially when it comes to the farming community,” Stallman said. “Farmers are used to doing things on their own and they may not know what resources are available.”

For more information, call or text -833-FARMSOS (833-327-6767), email [email protected] or visit siumed.org/farm.

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