Indiana program builds understanding of mental health in farm communities

Mental health and substance use issues are widespread but perceived differently from physical health. This can perpetuate shame, discouraging individuals from seeking or accepting help. Youth are impacted as half of all chronic mental health conditions develop by age 14. Farming is chronically plagued with stressors such as weather, regulations, input costs and market prices. Increasing financial strain results in chronic stress, anxiety and depression for farm families, threatening the livelihood and heritage of family farms. While farmersand ranchershave often beencharacterized by fierce independence witha do-it-yourself attitude, some programs are finding ways to build networks of support for mental health, with an emphasis on youth. Purdue Extension in northern Indianadelivered “Youth Mental Health First Aid,”an eight-hour course for adults interested in learning about youth mental health issues. The course covers signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use issues, and tools for first-aid level assistance to adolescents experiencing crises. Adults learn how to be a resource and provide support to youth at risk.As a result, about 200 adults were confident they could reach out to youth having mental health problems, substance-use challenges or crises, in recognizing signs of mental health problems, and in asking adolescents whether they are considering killing themselves. Over 1,550 farm stress participants across Indiana reported increased understanding of the impact of stress on the body, confidence identifying signs and symptoms of stress in someone, knowledge of where to send someone for help, confidence communicating with someone experiencing stress, understanding of suicide warning signs and knowledge of current agricultural financial situations. Participants said the skills they learned were vital. “The suicide information was valuable, because [it’s] just something not in my vocabulary, so I had no clue how to have that conversation,”one participant said.”How to talk to someone and be positive and be empathetic,” and “How to approach a stressed farmer and high stress situation on a farm setting,” were reported by another participant.

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