Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Establishes Help Line, Expands Resources

The words “farm stress” bring to mind a whole list of contributing factors: state of the farm economy, farm or business problems, an uncertain future, fear of losing the farm.

If you are a farmer, farm family member, or farmworker, you are not alone if you have those days when you wonder about it all. That is why the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), and every other state Department of Agriculture, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are funding the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) program. Its purpose is to connect individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs. North Carolina received $500,000 and is part of a Southern region collaborative network.

Thanks to the foundational work in farm stress the past 10 years by the N.C. Agromedicine Institute, NCDA&CS tapped the Institute to serve as the lead, in cooperation with other organizations, in working to expand the resources for the farm community. Dr. Robin Tutor-Marcom, director of the Institute, shares some details:

  • NC Farm Help Line – this crisis and resource help line recently went live and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 1-844-325-FARM (1-844-325-3276). “We know that the incidence of stress, anxiety, and other behavioral health conditions are very prevalent in the farming community,” says Dr. Tutor-Marcom. “That not only affects the farmer, but it affects the farm family and the farm workers. This crisis and resource line will be a big addition to what I call tools in the toolbox that we can use to help the farm community.”
  • www.ncfarmstress.org – find helpful farm stress management tools and resources at this website.
  • CareNet Counseling, Inc. – behavioral health services, such as counseling, will be available at no cost for individuals who are uninsured or underinsured. CareNet has locations across North Carolina, effectively offering greater access to mental health services statewide. In addition, joint training will be provided for Cooperative Extension, another partner in this effort. Extension professionals will be trained to recognize signs that an individual needs help and to be comfortable referring them. CareNet counselors will receive insight into the “culture” of agriculture.
  • Farm-Specific Stress Management Curriculum and Trainings for Individuals or Groups  – the focus will be on making the farm community and their networks across the state more informed and knowledgeable about recognizing and managing farm stress, and how to access helpful resources. Eastern Area Health Education Center, another partner, will also be involved in various training efforts.
  • Faith Health Program – will include implementing a care circle model for farm families in crisis.
  • Access of Farmer-to-Farmer Peer Support Services – another tool to strengthen behavioral health by connecting farmers of color, veterans, farmworkers, and their families.
  • Farm Stress-Related Efforts with the Southern Region – the 13 states and two territories in the region will work toward meaningful and sustainable solutions by sharing best practices and helpful resources and by working together to connect the farm community to the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Program.

Farm Community: This Is Your Resource

“I want the farm community to know this is their resource,” says Dr. Tutor-Marcom. “People truly do care about them and care about their well-being.”

The timing of these expanded services and resources is important, as evidenced by a 2020 survey conducted on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation. It focused on the mental health of rural communities, including farmers, farm families, and farm workers. When compared to a 2019 survey, the findings were clear that life in the age of COVID has gotten more stressful. A few key stats:

  • Two in three farmers/farmworkers (66 percent) say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health.
  • 87 percent of farmers/farmworkers say it is important to reduce the stigma about mental health in the agriculture community.
  • The percentage of farmers/farmworkers who think social isolation impacts farmers’ mental health increased 22 percent since April 2019 (46 percent in 2019 vs. 68 percent in 2020).
  • The main obstacles to seeking help or treatment for a mental health condition remain cost, availability, accessibility, stigma, and embarrassment.

“The funding we have received is helping us to expand resources. We know that different farmers are going to respond in different ways, and they are going to need services or resources in different ways,” explains Dr. Tutor-Marcom.

That’s why several different tools, from counseling, either virtually or in-person; a peer support program where farmers are matched with a farmer in another part of the state; stress-reducing tips; the helpline; web-based resources, and more are being provided.

“The support of USDA, Farm Credit, the North Carolina Corn Growers, and the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund has been essential in being able to provide farm-stress related services. We are so appreciative,” adds Dr. Tutor-Marcom. “Although we are still in the building phase, the support from Farm Credit and the other organizations has allowed us to be farther along in our journey than many other states. But those resources are only as good as the farmers who take advantage of them. We want them to know this is their program. They are the key ingredient to their farm’s bottom line, and we want to be able to work alongside them to ensure they continue to be there.”

Article Written By: Leah Chester-Davis

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