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                Addressing mental health in ag communities

                Farmers are facing a tough economy which, among other factors, contributes to overall stress

                A challenging farm economy can bring uncertainty, stress and anxiety. This can lead to negative effects on health -- particularly mental health. While often seen as taboo, having help and support for mental health struggles has proven to be effective.
                Many of us know that suicide is on the rise, particularly in rural communities. In 2017, the CDC released a report on suicide rates. Strikingly, the rate of suicide rose in rural communities by more than two percent from 13.1% to 15.9%, but in the urban area of the Twin Cities, it decreased, although incrementally from 11.2% to 11.1%.
                Recognizing the economic uncertainty in the farming industry, Land O’Lakes, Inc. has sought ways to help our members and their families navigate these difficult circumstances, including recognizing warning signs of mental health crisis and suicide.
                In early May, we hosted an event called “Harvesting Hope” held in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Land O’Lakes invited our members, employees and members of the community to the American Legion in Melrose, Minn., to the event with the goal to educate on the signs of depression and how to leverage a a three-step process to help prevent suicide.
                The three-step process, called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer), is an emergency response to someone in crisis and can help save lives. QPR is the most widely taught gatekeeper training program in the United States, and more than one million adults have been trained in this process in more than 48 states. The process and presentation was led by a dairy farmer who has battled depression and could relate on a very personal level to those in the room.
                Shary Kempainen, a member of a Land O’Lakes group committed to helping those with disabilities that had hosted a suicide awareness event for employees of Land O’Lakes, shared the success of the event: “Four of our members attended, but there were also people from credit unions, churches and even several associates from state representative offices,” she said. “This told us that it’s not just an event for farmers, it impacts the whole community.”
                There are many factors that contribute to the stress farmers feel, according to Hayley McHale, Community Health Educator with NAMI. Bringing in members of the agricultural community to facilitate these tough conversations is invaluable.
                “Stigma is a large barrier,” said Hayley. “We lean on relationships we have already built in the community.”
                Building on the success of this initial event, Land O’Lakes is looking for opportunities to offer similar Harvesting Hope events in other geographies to broaden the reach to include our Ag member-owners and their members, in addition to our dairy members.
                “We’re looking to host more Harvesting Hope events,” said Shary. “We’re going to take a holistic look at how we want to grow the program going forward.”
                For more than ten years, Land O’Lake has offered a Member Assistance Program to dairy members that provides resources for members dealing with difficult circumstances. With this program, members can call a confidential phone line or go online to get help with a variety of needs including:

                · Working through sensitive issues such as personal and work relationships as well as mental health

                · Locating childcare and elder-care services in your area

                · Obtaining a referral to a local attorney for a free half-hour in-person or phone legal consultation

                Additionally, as a cooperative, we have local staff representatives assigned to each dairy member farm who are trained to listen to our farmers’ needs, help them overcome challenges and understand the programs and services we offer.
                “A lot of people are unaware of how the struggles farmers are facing affect them,” said Amy Bloomquist, Wellness Manager. “Awareness leads to prevention and encourages seeking help.”

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