(The Center Square) – A $500,000 federal grant will be used to expand mental health resources for Iowa farmers and rural communities, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced Thursday.
The department received the grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture after applying through the Farm and Ranch Assistance Network program.
“We all need help from time to time and farmers and landowners are no exception,” Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Secretary Mike Naig said in a news release. “Some of the challenges they face are unique, like long-term financial stress, unpredictable weather and market uncertainty. We want anyone dealing with added stress and mental health challenges to know that they are not alone.”
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach John Lawrence said in the release that while commodity prices have improved, the 2020 derecho and the drought in 2020 and 2021 has impacted farmers.
The grant will support Iowa State University Extension and Outreach staff’s community outreach and programming for individuals involved in agriculture and “those who support them,” facilitator training for programs focused on strengthening families and raising of awareness of stress assistance, wellness and family finance programming options, the release said.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Behavioral Health State Specialist David Brown told The Center Square in an emailed statement that they offered a suicide prevention program, “Stress on the Farm: Strategies to Help Each Other,” at 95 Farm Bill meetings with 4,376 farmers and landowners from November 2019 through February 2020, and provided the Question.Persuade.Refer suicide prevention program to 539 participants at 35 virtual programs in 2020. In fiscal year 2021, the extension offered 23 mental health first aid courses to 310 participants, including agribusiness professionals, extension, staff, teachers, and human service providers.
The grant will also support a program the university is drafting in collaboration with the University of Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health: “Relationships Can Heal: Knowing the Farmer Client,” which will focus on different aspects of Iowa agriculture and why mental health and healthcare professionals should know more about agriculture, he said.
NAMI Iowa Executive Director Peggy Huppert told The Center Square that tailored resources are vital.
“I’ve heard frequently … that there aren’t a lot of therapists who really get what a farmer faces and what their life is really like … so the more specific resources and kind of peer-based help they can get from people who do understand what they’re facing, what they’re dealing with every day is … a good thing,” she said.
Huppert said there is a high rate of suicide among farmers. She attributed that to “a dearth of services,” “ready access to a gun,” and isolation.
“You might have to drive for two hours to get to a clinician who’s going to be able to help you, and often farmers can’t or don’t want to spend that time pursuing those resources,” she said.
Telehealth has increased access to services, she said.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 enacted the expansion of stress assistance programs for individuals working in agriculture. Each state’s appropriation was $500,000. By 180 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, Iowa and each other state receiving the grants will need to report to the Secretary of Agriculture what activities were conducted using the funds, the amount of funds used for each activity, and an estimate of how many individuals each activity assisted. The Secretary can encourage state departments of agriculture to use the funds to support programs operated by state cooperative extension services, nongovernmental organizations, and Indian tribes.
The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provides a free, confidential source for legal, financial, mental health and disaster recovery assistance, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through its Iowa Concern Hotline. The number is 1-800-447-1985.