Farmers' Financial Woes Sow Mental Health Issues
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The recession isn't just taking a financial toll on farmers and agricultural workers, it's also affecting their mental health. Crisis hotlines are getting more calls from desperate farmers, some on the edge of bankruptcy.
Michael Rosmann is a clinical psychologist and farmer who heads AgriWellness. It's a nonprofit organization that provides mental health services to agricultural workers across the country, and he joins us from the studios of KIOS in Omaha, Nebraska. Welcome to the program.
Dr. MICHAEL ROSMANN (Clinical Psychologist, Farmer, AgriWellness): Thank you, and I'm very glad to be here.
HANSEN: What kinds of problems are you hearing from the farmers?
Dr. ROSMANN: Well, some of the issues that arise are worry that the farm operation may become economically unable to continue. That for farm people is a tremendous crisis. Often these family farms have been hard won over multiple generations of preceding ancestors. So, there is a sense of obligation to not let down their forbearers and to try to retain the possibility of keeping the farmland available for their successors.
HANSEN: And since farmers are very connected to the land and their livestock as well, this is more than just losing a job.
Dr. ROSMANN: I would say that's true. Whenever farm people have long-term connections with their animals, such as dairy farmers and beef producers who have a cow herd, these long-term connections build up special bonds and appreciation. And that bond is very important to farm people.
HANSEN: So, what kind of mental health problems then are we talking about?
Dr. ROSMANN: Well, I, first of all, would just like to use the term behavioral, because behavioral health is a little broader.
Dr. ROSMANN: But the kinds of behavioral health issues that we're seeing largely are those that first involve a sense of alarm. That eventually takes its toll. Depression sets in. Sometimes that depression becomes so severe that people become suicidal. There's a tendency sometimes to begin to use other substances such as alcohol, occasionally even illicit substances.
HANSEN: Are there enough services to handle some of these behavioral health issues among farmers?
Dr. ROSMANN: No, there aren't, and that's kind of a sad chapter of what's going on. We see an outmigration of professionals who can provide behavioral health professional services in rural areas. So, it's both a problem of access and then on top of it there is a reluctance by agricultural people to approach behavioral caretakers because there is still a stigma that affects many agricultural people to think that, you know, I can get by. I can solve this on my own. I don't need professional outside assistance.
HANSEN: But you would say that this anxiety and depression and stress brought on by the recession is pretty widespread at this point.
Dr. ROSMANN: I would say it is pretty widespread. We are seeing a considerable increase. We have documented a 20 percent increase in calls over the past year. Moreover, the content of what people are discussing is, in their minds, much more serious.
HANSEN: Do you think that these behavioral health symptoms, have they peaked, are they continuing? Do you think that this has started to reverse itself at all?
Dr. ROSMANN: From what we can tell, it's still going on. It's probably at its peak right now, but it's not over.
HANSEN: Michael Rosmann is the director of AgriWellness. It's a nonprofit agency in Harlan, Iowa that provides mental health services to agricultural workers. He joined from the studios of KIOS in Omaha, Nebraska. Thank you very much.
Dr. ROSMANN: Thank you.
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