recently shorn sheep huddle against a green and white barn wall and in the doorway of the barn while snow falls

Don’t Bear It Alone – Mental Health Resources for Producers

Below, UW Extension educator Micah Most shares resources on mental health, suicide prevention, and how to get help. Content was originally published in Johnson County’s December “Trail Notes” newsletter.

The snow on the ground and ever-shortening daylight hours are a sure sign that winter is upon us.

recently shorn sheep huddle against a green and white barn wall and in the doorway of the barn while snow fallsThe amount of daily sunlight might be shrinking, but the cost of agricultural inputs is certainly not. Decisions on whether or not to prepay for fertilizer before year’s end, drought effects driving up the price of harvested forages, and global turmoil that is contributing to new fuel price records are making the already stressful work in agriculture even more so. Add to that mental load the pressures of the holiday season, and the burden might become too much to bear. The good news is this: folks in agriculture never have to bear it alone.

Family, neighbors, and community members can often offer the support to help someone through a rough patch, but sometimes that help can fall short. Through no fault of their own, they may simply not have the skills or tools to get to the heart of the matter. It can also be difficult for a person to feel comfortable asking for help. Does that sound familiar? I think there is a proud, stubborn streak in most of the farmers and ranchers I know.

While that “cowboy up” attitude can be the factor that keeps an operation running, it can also contribute to a crisis. Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the country. National data show that workers in agriculture have significantly more deaths by suicide relative to the population average. Taken together, these reveal that Wyoming agricultural producers are more at risk than many other Americans.

The 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was activated nationwide this summer to provide free, confidential, 24/7 support for people in crisis. The 988 Lifeline is available to anyone at any time who may be experiencing suicidal ideation, mental or emotional distress, or substance abuse. Dialing 988-1 will connect the caller directly to the Veterans Crisis Lifeline and offers access to personnel trained to support veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve members, and their families and friends.

There may be hesitation by some in agriculture to reach out to the 988 Lifeline because farmers and ranchers experience very specific stressors that may not be well understood by staff. For example, a recommendation to take two weeks off for recovery and healing is not helpful for a primary operator who has livestock to feed.

Because of this, the AgriStress Network in cooperation with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture has created the AgriStress Helpline: 833-897-2474. This free and confidential service is available for people who work in the agriculture industry, and the network is currently active in Wyoming, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Support staff that receive calls are trained in agricultural topics and are sensitive to the unique pressures and challenges faced by farmers and ranchers. More resources and information can be found by searching online for the AgriSafe Network.

This time of year can evoke a range of emotions. The sights, sounds, and scents can trigger painful memories of years past or remind us of a person not there to celebrate with us this year. I ask that we all be gentle with each other and with ourselves this holiday season. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 833-8976-2474 to reach the AgriStress Helpline.

Micah Most is the agriculture and natural resources educator with University of Wyoming Extension serving Johnson County. He can be reached at 307-684-7522 or Connect on Facebook and Instagram @ UW Extension Johnson County.

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