By Matt Reese
Hopefully, a bountiful, safely harvested crop from a growing season’s worth of work has paid off. The hay is made. The bins are full. The combine is back in the shop. Preparations for livestock have been taken care of for the winter. It is a good feeling as 2024 draws near to reflect on the blessings resulting from the year’s labors with the promise of a chance to rest and relax after the long hours of harvest. Now is the chance to reap the rewards of agricultural efforts sewn in 2023.
While this time of year is wonderful for so many to celebrate so much, it can also be a very difficult time for those whose efforts in 2023 did not turn out as planned. Weather, pests, diseases, interest rates, commodity markets, equipment breakdowns, and countless other factors can make the best efforts fall short on the farm. And sometimes they inevitably do.
For those who consider measuring their worth based on their success with the family farm, a one-year shortfall can be devastating during this time of celebration for so many.
“I just want to make sure that farmers know across Ohio they are so much more than their farm,” said Ty Higgins, with Ohio Farm Bureau, in an interview with Joel Penhorwood this September. “Their value is not measured in bushels or dollars or acres, their value is who they are as a brother, a father, a sister, a grandma — that is really the value of them as a person and it doesn’t have anything to do with what they do on the farm. If they understand that first, maybe they can start having some really valuable conversations about that with their family and get the the help they need so that they can continue to be a part of our great Ohio agriculture industry.”
Ohio Farm Bureau is part of a newly created alliance with a focus on mental health in agriculture to ensure Ohio’s farmers, families, and communities are better equipped to deal with stress.
In addition, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), The Ohio State University (OSU)), Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, and Farm Credit Mid-America joined forces for the new Ohio Agricultural Mental Health Alliance (OAMHA). The group’s first action was introducing a new, anonymous survey to seek feedback directly from rural communities this fall. The survey is available at: https://osu.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9pHMUc1n2IMMkgm?Q_CHL=qr.
The survey aims to gauge stress and how it’s being dealt with. OSU created the survey in partnership with OhioMHAS and ODH; working with Farm Bureau they used a pilot group to provide feedback. OAMHA will use survey results to determine where resources are needed and help ensure support is available to communities in need.
“The more we have conversations like this, the more we take a hammer at that brick wall of stigma and really have a chance to have some worthwhile conversations that get us where we need to go as far as mental health in the state of Ohio,” Higgins said. “To really kick off this partnership, the OAMHA put together the survey to get a level set of where we are in Ohio for mental health and farm stress. We simply don’t know what some of the stressors are. We don’t know what the coping mechanisms are for farmers across Ohio. What we really don’t know, though, is where are the resources in rural Ohio and where aren’t they. Where are we lacking in getting farmers the help they need? This survey is to really tell us from a farmer’s perspective, from a farm family’s perspective, from a farm community perspective, what is happening in Ohio as far as farm stress and mental health concerns. It’s really going to give us some very valuable information to move this conversation forward and be able to get farmers the help they need. And it’s all confidential. It’s all going to be aggregated. We just need the data to tell us the information that we’re looking for.”
In addition, ODA’s Got Your Back campaign offers information and resources for the agricultural community. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides residents with one, easy to remember number to call when they or someone they know is in crisis. On average, more than 12,000 Ohioans per month who are experiencing or affected by suicidal, mental health, and/or substance use crises have used the lifeline to receive free, 24/7, confidential support and connections to local resources.
“Farmer mental health is such an important issue that is often overlooked until we read about someone we know, or someone in the community, affected by tragedy,” said Brian Baldridge, ODA Director. “Our goal is to lift up every farmer, family, and neighborhood and let them know we are here for them.”
Modern technology allows for increased confidentiality with sensitive subject matter and makes addressing mental health easier than ever.
“This can be very confidential now. You don’t have to drive to a doctor’s office to find the help you need. You can get it online,” Higgins said. “And, even more than that, we’re training the mental health professionals about agriculture. Many farmers would go to someone to talk about what their troubles were and, with less than 2% of the population in agriculture, that person wouldn’t know a darn thing about what they were talking about. Well now these mental health professionals do have an idea of what the markets might do, or what Mother Nature may do, or equipment breakdowns, or family matters, and how that all impacts agriculture and farm families much differently than it does other parts of our society.”
With these tools, and more efforts to come, OAMHA hopes to move the needle on mental health challenges in the often far too weighty world of Ohio agriculture.
“It’s an unfortunate truth that we’ve lost five farmers who chose to take their life by suicide this year. It’s just an unbelievable number, but it proves that we still have a major issue here in Ohio,” Higgins said. “What this survey is hopefully going to start doing is getting to the root of the issue and figuring out how we can make that number zero.”