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May: Mental Health Awareness Month

May: Mental Health Awareness Month

Nifa Authors
Lori Tyler Gula, Senior Public Affairs Specialist

Mental health is an often-overlooked challenge farmers face nationwide. Farmland loss and land access issues, rising production costs, plummeting farm incomes, climate change and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to a mental health crisis within the farming community. Suicide rates among farmers and ranchers are well above the national average, while mental health services are less available and accessible in rural areas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) introduced a competitive grants program, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), reauthorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, which supports projects that provide stress assistance for people in farming, ranching and other agriculture-related occupations. 

FRSAN offers a conduit to improving behavioral health awareness, literacy and more favorable outcomes for them and their families. During Mental Health Awareness Month, learn more about how NIFA-funded regional programs are helping get mental health resources to the nation’s farming community.

Led by University of Illinois Extension, the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center is a 12-state, 15-partner collaborative to create and expand stress management and mental health resources and services for agricultural producers and stakeholders in the North Central region. 

The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Northeast aims to improve behavioral health awareness, literacy, access and outcomes for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers in the Northeast by developing a service provider network that can assist and meet the unique needs of agricultural workers. Serving 12 states and Washington, D.C., the network of 35 organizations focuses on service providers working with migrant farmworkers, young farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, in particular Black, Indigenous and People of Color farmers because, in addition to the stressors described above, they face unique challenges with more limited access to services.

The Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Program (WRASAP) is composed of lead agencies representing 13 states and four territories. WRASAP recognizes that high levels of stress have been present in our agricultural communities. Causes include unstable finances, carrying the pressure of multigenerational farm lineage, injury, chronic/acute illness, adverse weather and climate change and recent COVID-19 stressors. The program wants to make sure farmers, their families and those who work with them have access to the resources needed, when they’re needed. 

In Tennessee, a new effort aims to bring hope and intervention for farm stress. Tennessee AgrAbility has partnered with Dr. Heather Sedges of the University of Tennessee Extension Department of Family and Consumer Sciences for the project, Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network: Southern Region. “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, stress in our daily lives had a great impact on our mental health and well-being,” Sedges said. “And stress will always be there in one form or another. One reason we’re taking a long-term, multi-disciplinary and sustainable approach to combating stress is because it isn’t going away. Ultimately, we’re getting to the root causes of the issue.” 


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