Connectiveness for Farmers

Written by Phil Payne

June 24, 2020

Connectiveness is a funny word… it is a recently coined word that refers to the quality and quantity of a person’s connections to others, either personally or online. This speaks to the mental wellbeing of community support for an individual and for farmers in 2020, its meaning is becoming painfully clear.

I have had the absolute pleasure of talking to AgrAbility groups associated with University outreach programs. If you are unfamiliar with AgrAbility and their mission, they are part of a national program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that assists farmers and other agricultural workers with disabilities by providing the resources and support they need to live independently, and to continue or return to working in production agriculture. A tall task indeed, now add in the stressors of COVID-19.

Here locally, I was able to speak at the Ohio AgrAbility Conference put on by Ohio State University, please check them out here, stay connected to these great people and their resources ( https://agrability.osu.edu/ ). Apportis has also been plugged into the great work coming out of Purdue University ( https://ag.purdue.edu/stories/agrability-helps-veterans-launch-and-maintain-careers-in-agriculture/) another fantastic resource to connect to. This group is a consortium of 20 states that is backed by the USDA and their national AgrAbility program ( http://www.agrability.org/ ).

As any farmer or rancher can tell you, farm life can be demanding and stressful. It’s reaching a critical stage with coronavirus impacts on top of trade wars, natural disasters, depressed commodity prices, labor shortages and other factors. Given these ongoing challenges, it’s no surprise that more farmers and farm families are experiencing stress and mental health issues.

If you, or someone you know, are struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health challenge, you are not alone. Check out the following resources and follow #FarmStateofMind on social media to show your support.

Learning the signs of mental illness means it can be detected early and action can be taken sooner, rather than later. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it may be useful to follow up with a mental health professional if several of the following issues are occurring:

  • Sleep or appetite changes— Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care
  • Mood changes— Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings
  • Withdrawal— Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Drop in functioning— An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems thinking— Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain
  • Increased sensitivity— Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
  • Apathy— Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
  • Feeling disconnected— A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings, a sense of unreality
  • Illogical thinking— Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
  • Nervousness— Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling
  • Unusual behavior– Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture addressed the growing mental health problems in rural America, adding $50 million for mental health resources for farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill passed in December. The FARMERS FIRST Act was included in the Bill and originally introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

However, that meager amount was prior to the new stressors brought about by COVID-19.
“FARMERS ARE THE BACKBONE OF OUR RURAL ECONOMY AND LEADERS IN OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES. WASHINGTON HAS BEEN SLOW TO RECOGNIZE THE CHALLENGES THAT FARMERS ARE FACING, AND THE DAILY STRESSORS THAT THEY EXPERIENCE DURING DIFFICULT YEARS” SEN.BALDWIN.

FARMERS FIRST stands for Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental health and Encouraging Rural Solutions for Immediate Response to Stressful Times.

How can you help? Start a conversation

  • Although it may feel like it is out of your comfort zone, you can start a conversation in any number of ways:
  • Acknowledge what they’re going through. “I know a lot of people have lost their markets this year, which can be devastating. How are you holding up?”
  • Remind them of something they’ve said and express interest. “I heard you say your meeting with John was a disaster. Can you tell me about it?”
  • Share a habit you’ve seen change. “I’ve noticed you haven’t come to coffee for a long time. Are you doing OK?”
  • Don’t wait for them to ask. “You seem to have a lot on your mind. How can I help?”
  • If they’re willing to reach out, encourage them. “I’ve heard that talking to [a counselor, a doctor, a religious or spiritual leader, etc.] can be really helpful. Have you considered that?”

Try not to compare their challenges to someone else’s or minimize what they are going through. What matters most is showing genuine care and empathy and listening.

Five Steps to Help Someone in Emotional Pain

  1. Ask
  2. Keep them safe
  3. Be there
  4. Help them connect
  5. Stay connected

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website for more information. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, you can access a list of resources compiled by Farms.com.

Apologies for the long blog post, but this is a critical issue that is overlooked by most Americans. We are happy to shop at the grocery store, bemoan if there are any shortages, but we all need to recognize the strain COVID-19 has had on our farmers and ranchers. Please follow the provided links, connect, and share the resources.

Through Connectiveness we can help build the infrastructure of support for all.

#FarmStateofMind
#connectiveness
#agrability
@OhioAgrAbility

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