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Addressing mental health in agriculture

Photo courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Last Friday, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) hosted a variety of speakers at their 2019 economic summit. Iowa State Extension and Outreach Behavioral Health State Specialist, Dr. David Brown, presented on an important topic–”Stress on the Farm.”

Dr. Brown explained that while stressors are common in every person’s life, they are more frequent in the lives of those in agriculture due to the uncontrollable threat on their income.

“Farmers are a little bit more at risk just because of the situation they’re under and the stressors in their life–things like weather, crop prices, commodity prices, farm bills–things like that. So much of what they do is outside of their control and their livelihood.”

Brown said gender and age play larger roles in suicide than most tend to consider.

“Men are at higher risk for suicide than women simply because they typically use more lethal means, but older adults are also at higher risk for suicide. Those that live in rural parts of the country are also at more risk for suicide than individuals in metropolitan areas. So, those factors themselves make older men who are likely to be farmers much more at risk than other individuals in other areas.”

The C.O.R.N. method was developed for friends and family as a way to remember to put your embarrassment aside, and understand the importance of reaching out to someone you believe is suffering.

“It is important that we care for the person by ‘Choosing to Engage’ them and ask what’s going on. ‘O’ is ‘Offer Support’ and listen. We also want during that conversation, if you’re really concerned about that person, we want you to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’. There’s a lot of myths out there as far as individuals thinking that it may encourage suicide, but that is completely the opposite. This may actually discourage the sucide and relieve some anxiety. ‘R’ is for ‘Refer to an Appropriate Source or Hotline’. For example, if someone is suicidal, we may look at an emergency room or talk to a pastor. Finally, the ‘N’ is for ‘Never Leaving a Suicidal Person Alone or Without Hope.’”

Dr. Brown suggests stress relief in regular exercise or, for a more exciting form, take your significant other out on a date. 

The main takeaway of this program is to reach out. Whether you are thinking of suicide, or suspect a friend or family member is in this mindset, know that you will not be judged nor shamed for seeking help. Free, confidential support can be obtained through Dr. Brown, whose information is available online, or through immediate assistance from the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.