State receives grant to support mental health, farm stress

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture recently received a $500,000 grant from the USDA’s agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s farm and ranch stress assistance network program.

The state is partnering with the Indiana Rural Health Association and Purdue Extension to reduce mental health stigma and connect individuals engaged in agriculture-related occupations to existing stress assistance programs.

“The agricultural community is an extraordinary one with hard working people and unique challenges, both economically and socially,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “This funding will assist rural residents with stress and help communities ensure residents know there are available resources help close to home.”

The state will be working with the IRHA to help those who live and work in agriculture to become more comfortable with mental health care options by holding 23 community workshops starting in February 2022 across Indiana. Conversations about mental health stigma and resources, as well as recognizing signs of those in mental health distress will be discussed.

“Indiana is a very rural state with lots of farming and agricultural bases in many towns and cities. Our statewide workshops will work to provide these communities the tools they need to recognize stress, related mental health issues and mental health crises that unfortunately can lead to suicide attempts,” said Kathy Walker, program director of the Indiana Rural Heath Association. “Our workshops will provide skills to help everyone recognize signs of distress. Indiana Rural Health Association works to enhance the health and well-being of rural Hoosiers through leadership, education, advocacy, collaboration and resource development.”

To supplement these activities, Purdue Extension also will survey and analyze the mental health call center landscape and capacity in Indiana and then create and deploy a specialized training module for mental health call center workers supporting farmers, farm families and agribusinesses.

“COVID, the breakdown of agricultural supply chains, price volatility and variable weather are just a few issues that have intensified the need for stronger supports for our farmers and agribusiness colleagues in times of stress,” said Dr. Jason Henderson, Director of Purdue Extension. “Purdue Extension is excited to partner with ISDA and IRHA on this project to focus on resources and tools to support farm families through these difficult times.”

Together ISDA, IRHA and Purdue Extension will highlight the importance of mental health care through broad promotions. This will include creating mental health promotional materials and visual reminders for the farming community that will be shared at events across Indiana, such as the Indiana State Fair.

“Farming is one of the most dangerous and stressful jobs there is,” said Bruce Kettler, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. “Each person faces stressors in their job and in their life, and rural communities are no different. I am hopeful this project will highlight resources for their stress and any mental difficulties they may face.”

This initiative will increase awareness of existing mental health resources, build knowledge on farming and agricultural stressors and help Hoosiers reduce stigma and better-recognize mental health needs.