Mental Health in Ohio Fields

By: 
JENNA GILBERT
Staff Writer

Mental health doesn’t discriminate on who it affects and in 2019 a group that may be getting targeted the most is the group that most likely isn’t talking about it at all. 

At last week’s Mercer County All Ag Banquet, guest speaker Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau director of media relations, started his talk by encouraging farmers to realize that while they may be alone in the fields, they are not alone with the problems they are facing. 

“The farmer blames himself for things he cannot control,” Higgins said. “And a lot of times that can bring on some farm stress and so the Ohio Farm Bureau, along with the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, have put together some programs to help farmers get through this stressful time.”

To combat farmers from keeping quiet about their struggles and assist them to realize they are not alone in their battles, ODA started Got Your Back initiative. The initiative is a partnership between ODA, Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services and Recovery Ohio. 

Got Your Back is an online source that directs Ohio farmers and their families to resources that can help them cope with any stress they are feeling in a confidential manner. The website provides links to agencies and organizations that focus on a variety of groups within farming such as working age men, women in agriculture, teens and young adults and more. 

They site also lists helpful tools when individuals are in a crisis. One crisis line that Higgins mentioned at the ag banquet was a 24/7 textline for anyone who needs to talk. By texting “4hope” to 741741, the individual will be connected with a trained crisis counselor for free who will help them work through whatever is on their mind. 

More information about that service can be found online at CrisisTextLine.org.

Ohio State University has also put together a website that specifically addresses the 2019 agricultural challenges. The College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences put together a task force that addresses the concerns and offer science-based recommendations and solutions.

Their website breaks down the various farm groups and crisis’ for visitors with attached links to educate themselves. There are also webinars available for them to access as well as a frequently asked questions section. 

With all the resources available to farmers, Higgins said the best resource out there is other farmers.
 
“We’re all going through this together and if we realize that and start talking to one another, it might help the situation,” Higgins said. “If you see someone that’s struggling or maybe acting a little bit different, maybe using alcohol a little bit more than they normally would, maybe being late to meetings, just reach out and ask, ‘Are you OK?’
“That can go a long way with what we are dealing with in agriculture.”

This year, about 1.5 million acres of corn and soybeans in Ohio were prevented from planting with 800,000 acres of corn and 600,000 acres of soybeans prevented — record breaking numbers in extreme levels. Higgins shared that the previous record for prevented planting for corn was in 2011 with 205,000 acres; 2019’s acres were four-time higher. 

Soybean was even more drastic with 2015 being the previous record holder for prevented planting at 96,000 acres; 2019’s acres were six-times higher.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,740 people died by suicide in Ohio in 2017 — a rate of 14.8 people per 100,000. The CDC also states that men are more likely to die by suicide than women and a firearm is the most commonly used method to do so. 

Looking at farming, there is a lot of stress that comes with owning and operating a farm. In a video produced by the Huffington Post in 2018, Ted Matthews, director of rural mental health for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said the pressure of maintaining the farm can build, especially during difficult seasons. 

“Think how it would be if your great-grandfather owned the farm, and then your grandfather owned it after that, and then your father owned it after that and now you’re going to lose it,” he said in the video. “Now, not only have they lost the farm but they’ve lost their identity.”

He mentions that farmers are often taught not to talk about their stresses and that sometimes admitting they made a mistake or are dealing with something is a sign of failure. That shame is what keeps them quiet. 

Pair that shame with the fact many spend all day working alone and it’s easy to see where negative mental health can start to creep in. 

“Dad didn’t talk, grandpa didn’t talk, their uncles didn’t talk so they don’t either,” Matthews continued. “Most farmers don’t have a concept of what they can do outside of farming, it just doesn’t exist for them.”

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