Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Senator Elder Vogel, Chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, led a roundtable discussion with agriculture industry members and mental health professionals to discuss reducing stigma surrounding mental health issues in agriculture, the importance of access to resources in rural areas, and building farmer-to-farmer support.
Last month, Governor Tom Wolf launched the Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters initiative – a multi-agency, anti-stigma campaign – to expand resources and support for mental health and related health care priorities in Pennsylvania. Reach Out PA will address many recommendations for improving mental-health services laid out by the Council on Reform, created last year by the governor’s executive order to protect vulnerable populations.
“Farmers are a tough crop, but they are not exempt from the stresses of life. In fact, those who work in agriculture are at an even higher risk of mental health crisis as a result of the nature of agriculture to be demanding with uncertain external conditions,” said Agriculture Secretary Redding. “I urge farmers to reach out and talk to family, friends, and neighbors – band together to strike down the stigma.”
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides among farmers are nearly two times higher than the national average for the general population and could be higher because some farm suicides could be masked as farm-related accidents. High demands, financial issues, fear of losing the farm, and the uncertainty of both weather and the economy all contribute to the mental health strain on farmers.
“Mental health issues are often unrecognized and surrounded by stigma,” said Senator Vogel. “This event is not only necessary, but presents a unique opportunity to meet with local leaders, community members, and state officials to raise awareness while identifying needs and seeking effective solutions.
At today’s roundtable, farmers and industry advocated joined Secretary Redding and Senator Vogel to hold a focused discussion on the mental health needs of farmers and the importance of breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse in the industry. Secretary Redding encouraged farmers to start conversations in their communities and watch for signs of distress including:
· Decline in care of crops, animals, and farm;
· Deterioration of personal appearance;
· Withdrawing from social events;
· Increase in farm accidents;
· Change in routine;
· Increased physical complaints;
· Increase in alcohol use;
· Giving away prized possessions.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or is considering suicide, help is available. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact Crisis Text Line by texting PA to 741-741.