A few years ago, my husband, Drew, and I sat at our dining room table, saddened by the news of yet another farmer suicide. This time wasn’t like the others.
It wasn’t someone from across the country whose story we’d read in the news. It wasn’t a person we’d run into once at a random ag event.
This time, it was a family friend. I remember stating this was “too close to home,” until I realized this WAS home to people we loved.
It was in those moments that we decided we had waited too long to advocate for mental health in the agriculture industry.
As a former school counselor, mental health wasn’t a new topic of conversation in our home. We had frequent discussions about the stresses of farming, and we often wondered why the industry and media never talked about it ... until it was too late.
So, we quit waiting and started working.
During the past three years, I’ve researched the statistics, collaborated with organizations big and small, helped connect key stakeholders and shared important resources.
And while I’ve certainly learned much more than I’ve taught, here are some of the most insightful lessons I’ve gathered on this ag mental health journey:
We may be isolated, but we’re not alone.
This mental health conversation? It’s powerful stuff. It creates a sense of connectedness that we never knew we had.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only one going through this.”
And it’s not just about suicide or depression. It’s about the stresses that all of us face but no one wants to talk about, so we battle them silently.
But when we open up and get a little vulnerable, we battle together. And for a moment, things just get a little easier.
Whether it’s a daughter worried about her dad’s financial woes, a husband asking for advice on how to help his wife’s anxiety, a grandson wanting to know how to get through to his granddad who won’t see a doctor for his uncontrollable stress, or a farmer who’s been brought to tears after talking things out, the mental health discussion creates moments of relief.
Even though we come from farms across the country, we create togetherness when we realize we aren’t combatting our problems alone.
We’re ready to talk about it, but we’re not ready to call it “mental health:”
For some reason, “mental health” still feels like a dirty word. It’s cringy, and it makes us uncomfortable.
That said, after each group I speak with, an unprompted line forms at my podium as people come forward with their own stories of stress or losing loved ones.
My inbox is often the home of people reaching out – for themselves or others.
While I think normalizing the term “mental health” is super important, I personally find it more important that farm families are paying attention to the message of hope and resilience.
So, call it whatever you want, if it’ll get people to listen.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go.
It’s been an absolute thrill to see the entire industry grow in its comfortability addressing mental health.
As just one advocate, I’ve had the honor of working on more than 100 projects related to mental health.
From a social media campaign based in Ireland, to a Commodity Classic panel discussion, to the shop of a neighboring farmer, each and every conversation plants a seed.
And it’s been a true treasure watching those seeds grow and thrive and spread to the hearts and minds of farm families across the globe.
But it’s not over yet.
Until our farmers feel comfortable finding help, we’ve got work to do.
Until our industry’s business leaders value the mental health and safety of their clients as much as they value their farms, we’ve got work to do.
Until we become growers of hope as willingly as we are growers of crops and livestock, we’ve got work to do.
Mental health matters, for our farmers, for our families, for our future. Let’s keep talking.