“Rural America is hurting not just economically, but also emotionally.” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall stated. Throughout rural areas in our country, we are seeing higher levels of stress caused by a variety of different factors. Higher stress levels are leading to more mental health concerns and higher rates of suicide. According to the CDC, suicides among farmers are 1.5 times higher than the national average and could be even higher because some of the suicides are masked as accidental deaths instead. Thankfully, there are nationwide efforts occurring to help combat the rising suicide rates for farmers and ranchers. I wanted to research the efforts that are happening in our own state of Nebraska.
There are multiple reasons why the mental health needs for farmers/ranchers are increasing. Annette Dubas, the Executive Director of NABHO (Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations), states the devastating weather events and low commodity prices as two of the biggest problems facing farmers in Nebraska. She also discussed how independent farmers tend to be, so reaching out for help can be difficult for them to do. Because of these reasons it is important there are resources that are available to farmers and ranchers throughout the state.
In Nebraska, we are lucky to have the Rural Response Hotline. I was able to chat with the farm program director of the Rural Response Hotline and Legal Aid of Nebraska, Michelle Soll, to learn more about the hotline. It has been in existence since 1984 and it began in response to financial pressure and legal stress for many farm families. The hotline is sponsored by the Farm Crisis Response Council through Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska. Farmers, ranchers, or people who live in rural areas can call into the hotline to receive free services. There are employees who answer the hotline and then direct the call to whatever service might be necessary for that individual. Types of services they connect individuals to include, attorneys, financial counselors, or mental health professionals. The hotline can connect individuals to resources throughout the whole state. According to Michelle, the hotline averages around 300 phone calls a month, but it really depends on what is going on each week or month. For example, if there are unforeseen weather circumstances the hotline might have a higher number of calls.
When I asked Michelle about what is causing mental health problems within the farming population, she accredited it to stress, family dynamics, financial issues, and the issue of not wanting to reach out because it appears “weak”. She also discussed how the hotline receives calls from everyone in rural communities, not just farmers and ranchers, because they are all affected. Since the hotline is well established, it has been able to build credibility and they are seeing a lot more success throughout the years as more and more individuals have been reaching out.
Besides the hotline, there are many services that are available for farmers and ranchers throughout the state of Nebraska. Every county has a farm service agency which provides loans, commodity price supports, and assistance in the case of a disaster. There is also the Farmers Union Foundation which provides numerous educational services to farmers, ranchers, and rural communities.
In conclusion, there is a growing demand for mental health resources needed for farmers, ranchers, and rural community members. The suicide rates have unfortunately increased within this particular population, but thankfully there are numerous organizations working hard to make resources available.
If you are a farmer, rancher, or a community member in a rural area seeking help, call 1-800-464-0258, which is the number for the Rural Response Hotline.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profits organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.