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New training prepares US farmers to respond to farm stress

As part of the organisation’s broader initiative to address a growing farm stress crisis, National Farmers Union (NFU) last week hosted a two-day, in-person session to train community mental health advocates across the country.

15 March 2020, at 10:00am

More than 30 Farmers Union members from 19 states completed the training, which was held in conjunction with NFU’s 118th Anniversary Convention in Savannah, Georgia. The programme’s curriculum ­– established in collaboration with American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, and Michigan State University Extension – prepares participants to both recognise and respond to signs of stress and suicide as well as teach others to do the same. Upon returning home, they will not only serve as a resource for community members struggling with their mental health, but they will also lead future training sessions for farmers’ friends, neighbours, and family members.

“With so much uncertainty and economic pressure, farmers are under immense stress right now,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “At the same time, many people are embarrassed to talk about mental health or don’t know how. By training local leaders to build a meaningful, community-based response to this crisis, we can help break down the stigma and make it easier for farmers to ask for help when they need it most.”

Hosted by Mental Health First Aid, the first day of the training session focused on risk factors for, warning signs of, and strategies to respond to mental health concerns like depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, traumatic events, drug misuse, and suicidal behaviours. The second day of training, led by Michigan State University Extension, contextualised those concerns within a rural framework, providing guidance for working specifically with agricultural professionals and rural residents.

“Some of the stressors farmers face are pretty unique. They aren’t just dealing with financial anxiety – they often also have the burden of several generations of family legacy,” Larew said. “This training tailors mental health outreach to the particular concerns and experiences of family farmers and ranchers to ensure that those efforts are really relevant and effective.”

For Farmers Union members who were not able to attend this session, there are other opportunities to get involved. NFU is offering a free, online course to help those who interact with farmers to recognise signs of stress and offer help. Additionally, several Farmers Union state and regional divisions are developing their own training programmes for members.