New organization connects farmers with mental health resources
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Many rural communities have been underserved by mental health resources, and those working in the agricultural sector have been particularly neglected.
To better extend help to rural countrysides, AgWell, an organization still in its infancy, hosted its first summit on Aug. 28, just a few days before the onset of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.
The summit was held at the Hayden Granary, an historic agricultural warehouse that has been preserved as a gathering space for the community. Ranchers and farmers were invited to eat locally sourced food and discuss mental health challenges within the agricultural sector.
AgWell is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and was designed to provide stress management services to those working in agriculture throughout Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. AgWell was formed in November and so far has four staff members and two volunteers to help meet people’s needs.
AgWell’s mission is to refer ranchers and farmers to mental health resources and create opportunities for members of the agricultural sector to connect with each other.
Clinton Wilson, program director for AgWell, said it’s important that ranchers and farmers know they are not alone, and it’s AgWell’s mission to help people come together.
“Over the past 100 years, I think we’ve lost the gathering spaces that are not on the farm,” Wilson said.
The modest number of ranchers and farmers at the summit agreed with Wilson’s assessment, saying they’ve seen a decline in community gatherings over the years and generations. According to several attendees at the summit, churches aren’t the community hubs they once were, and neighborly interactions are fewer and farther between, as people don’t have to rely on each other like they once did.
“We can see the resilience in ourselves when we see it in other people,” said Dakotah McGinlay, the program assistant for AgWell.
During the summit’s roundtable discussion, two topics came up frequently — the need for communal gatherings and the reluctance many people in agriculture industry have to seek help, especially men.
“Does anybody know why on Earth we as humans decided that we cannot show our weakness?” Wilson asked the room.
The consensus among those at the summit was that culture plays a large factor, specifically the concept of “rugged individualism.”
According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for male farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers was twice as high in 2012 as it was for the general population.
Phil Kellenbeck, who operates Bears Ears Ranch north of Hayden, explained that he doesn’t have the luxury of taking time for self-care. He broke his ankle earlier in the year and elected to wear a boot instead of crutches because he still needed to work.
“We’re all workaholics,” said Kellenbeck, who added that balancing work with having a personal life is a constant struggle.
AgWell works to promote mental health options that can accommodate any schedule and put people in touch with resources that can work remotely. Additionally, the Colorado Agricultural Addiction and Mental Health Program offers farmers and ranchers six free therapy sessions through its website, CAAMHPforHealth.org.
There’s also a national hotline — 1-800-FARM-AID — that has services for farm families in crisis and is available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. More information can be found at FarmAid.org.
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