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Missouri launches helpline to boost mental health of farmers, ranchers

Joplin Globe - 8/9/2022

Aug. 9—The Missouri Department of Agriculture on Monday announced the launch of the AgriStress Helpline, a free and confidential service available to Missouri producers and rural families seeking mental health support.

The line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to anyone involved in the Missouri agriculture industry via call or text to 833-897-2474.

The service is made possible through a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant that aims to help combat farmer stress and suicide. The grant also supports the distribution of mental health resources and training, provided by University of Missouri Extension, to help identify and manage agricultural stress, according to the state agriculture department in a news release.

"Having a career in agriculture is not for the faint of heart. Unpredictable weather, market volatility, cost fluctuation, government regulations and long hours can put pressure on our producers and their families," said Chris Chinn, Missouri's director of agriculture, in a statement. "We know producers take pride in their ability to handle challenging circumstances, which can lead to a stigma around seeking mental health support. But it's OK to need help. Our goal is to ensure free, confidential support is available for Missouri farmers, ranchers and rural community members through the AgriStress Helpline."

A majority of studies comparing farmers' mental health with other occupational groups suggest that farmers have worse mental health issues than the general population, and that farmworkers and farm owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress-related conditions and mental disorders, according to research published in 2019 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The four most-cited risk influences on farmers' mental health were pesticide exposure, financial difficulties, climate variabilities and drought, and poor physical health or past injuries, the research suggested.

The coronavirus pandemic and related COVID-19 financial strains have only added to farmers' existing list of stressors and mental distress, according to the American Psychological Association.

Just under half, or 46%, of farmers and farmworkers say it is difficult to access a therapist or counselor in their local community, according to a 2019 poll from the American Farm Bureau Federation. An overwhelming majority said embarrassment and the cost of treatment would be obstacles to seeking help for mental health issues, the same poll found.


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