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Outreach Deals with Bumper Crop of Stress

(West Lafayette, IN) - The stress of farming has, perhaps, new heights.  In response, a Purdue University program making sure farmers have access to mental health care has expanded to other states.


In late 2020, the Purdue Extension Farm Stress Team joined a 12 state initiative awarded a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant.  The funds are being used to create and expand stress management, mental health resources and services to agriculture producers in the North Central Region.


“The Purdue Stress Management Team believes the most important farm assets are farmers, farm families and farm employees.  We are dedicated to helping take care of the most important farm asset -  you,” said Tonya Short, Purdue Extension Health and Human Sciences educator in Knox County.  Short is also a farm stress team member.


According to Purdue University officials, PEFST was formed in January of 2019 by a group of 11 educators after they attended a Farm Stress Management workshop hosted by Michigan State University Extension.  20 educators are now trained in farm stress management and certified in mental health first-aid which is taught by Purdue Extension Health and Human Services.


1,550 people have been reached with more than 50 in-person programs created since PEFST was formed, Purdue University officials said.  Another 267 people have participated in four virtual programs nationally.


Farming is stressful enough from having to rely on unpredictable markets, weather and operating costs.  Adding to the stress has been a 50-percent nationwide decline in net farm income since 2013.


According to Purdue University officials, the mission is reaching farmers who don’t have convenient access to treatment or don’t pursue help for mental health because of the stigma associated with such care or lack of health insurance.


PEFST was also invited recently to help plan a new national suicide prevention hotline.  “Our team’s mission is to make sure farmers, farm families and rural needs are represented in new and expanding mental health resources,” Short said.


According to a poll by American Farm Bureau Federation, 66-percent of farmers and farm workers say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health.  The poll of 2,000 respondents also showed rural adults were more likely than older rural adults to say the pandemic has impacted their mental health a lot.  “My takeaway from this survey is that the need for support is real and we must not allow lack of access or a ‘too tough to need help’ mentality to stand in the way,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.


“The pandemic added a mountain of stress to an already difficult year for farmers and they need to know that sometimes it’s OK not to be OK, that people care and that there’s hope and help,” he said.

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