Wisconsin News Connection

May 25, 2022Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Help is Available for WI Farmers Facing Mental-Health Challenges

Jonah Chester

From inflation to climate change, Wisconsin farmers face numerous sources of stress that can't help but affect their health. And one program is offering mental and emotional support to farm operators who need it.

The Farmer Wellness Program, an initiative of the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, offers in-person and remote counseling for farmers across the state.

Dan Bauer, program supervisor for the Wisconsin Farm Center, which administers the program, said they also have a 24/7 emergency line.

"So, that 24/7 line is available to farmers," he said, "and really, what it's designed to do is to get them through a terribly tough time. It's not for ongoing care, or not for long-term treatment."

In a December poll of farmers and farm workers commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation, more than 60% of respondents said they felt more stress in 2021 compared with the previous year. They cited financial issues, fear of losing their farms and an uncertain future among their greatest stressors.

According to a 2020 report from the National Institutes of Health, about 6.5 million rural Americans struggle with mental-health issues, but counseling services tend to cluster in urban and suburban areas.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, UnitedHealthcare executive vice president and chief medical officer, said technology has made inroads in improving rural access to mental-health services.

"Tele-Behavioral Health has really been beneficial in helping equal out that access, because now licensed mental-health professionals can practice and care for people in communities that may have otherwise had a very long drive to get to see them," she said, "so, think about people in rural areas."

The NIH report estimated as many as 65% of non-metropolitan counties lack a psychiatrist. Bauer said DAT-CAP's "Rural Realities" podcast also can offer helpful tips to farmers looking to prioritize their mental health.