Farm family lends a hand in normalizing mental health access in ag

“Mental health is kind of the ugly word in the room—nobody talks about it, and I think that’s the biggest part of the problem,” said rural health advocate and family nurse practitioner Amy Howe.

It is no secret that members of the agricultural community face an intense amount of stress each day at work. As a fourth-generation farmer, Keith Howard understands this firsthand.

Growers and producers deal with so much unpredictability, including weather—and after a while, he says, this can really take a toll on farmers.

“When I went into my job, I never took on the thought that it was going to be something that I might someday need a little bit of counseling for, or that I might suffer from anxiety, but it comes,” Howard said.

Howard recalls the popular saying by Rob Watson: “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000.” Adding that,"There’s no saying that, ‘Mother Nature bats last...and she does so with all of the best plans that you lay out she can come in and fold.’”

Howard, alongside his son and nephew, launched a program that focuses on helping the next generation of producers with farming practices as well as increasing and normalizing mental health awareness in the agricultural industry.

“We have a little plot of land that we’re renting; we’re all kind of in a learning process,” Howard said. “I’m learning how to train farmers, and they’re learning how to farm. So, it’s been interesting, but there are certain things that I do discuss with them about anxiety, and how to keep that at bay.”

Outside of dealing with these daily stressors and the anxiety of making a living off the land, normalizing the ability to seek mental health care is the biggest hurdle for farmers and rural Americans, according to rural health advocate and family nurse practitioner Amy Howe.

“Mental health is kind of the ugly word in the room—nobody talks about it, and I think that’s the biggest part of the problem,” Howe said. “We have got to find a way to normalize somebody admitting, ‘Hey, I’m stressed. Hey, I’m anxious.’ Especially in our farming population and especially in a rural population.”

According to American Farm Bureau Federation, 63 percent of adults living in rural areas consider the stigma of mental health an obstacle to receiving help. Another 65 percent say embarrassment is also another factor in mental health that happens both in and out of the agriculture community.

If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988.

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

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