November 27, 2022

Helpline available to assist farm families 24/7

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The farmer is the most valuable asset on a farm.

“The farmer takes care of his livestock, crops and equipment, but oftentimes farmers don’t take care of themselves,” said Karen Stallman, agriculture resource specialist for the Farm Family Resource Initiative managed by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development.

“That’s part of what the Farm Family Resource Initiative is about — helping farmers and farm families take care of themselves,” said Stallman during a webinar hosted by Illinois Agri-Women.

FFRI started in December 2019 in six pilot counties and on July 1, 2021, the project increased to the 66 counties in southern Illinois that are the service region for SIU School of Medicine.

“This started with Senator Scott Bennett’s vision of needing to help Illinois farm families with farm stress issues, mental health issues and improving the health of farm families both mentally and physically,” Stallman said. “In September 2021, thanks to the Illinois Department of Ag and USDA funding, we were able to expand FFRI to all 102 counties.”

One of the first things the initiative did was create a website, www.siumed.org/farm.

“We have webinars, resources, a monthly blog and resources on our website,” Stallman said. “The website is filled with information and it is continuously evolving.”

The anonymous, confidential farm helpline at 1-833-FARM-SOS, or 1-833-327-6767, is available 24/7.

“You can call, text or now we have an email option,” Stallman said. “So, if you’re disking and finish on a Saturday and you need somebody to talk to, you will talk to a bachelor’s or master’s degree level mental health professional that will be able to provide brief crisis intervention and resources.”

A variety of calls have been made to the farm helpline.

“Nothing is too simple, too complicated or out of line,” Stallman said. “And service is provided at no charge.”

With grant funding, Stallman said, follow-up counseling sessions are available for callers who need additional support.

“Counselors at the SIU School of Medicine are able to provide up to six free counseling sessions and they can be individual, couples or family counseling,” she said. “It is all done over the telehealth system so you never have to leave your home as long as you have access to a computer and a good internet connection.”

FFRI is working with several groups including Farm Bureau managers and Extension personnel to provide ag industry professional development.

“It is a webinar series that includes introduction to helping skills if you see someone struggling,” Stallman said. “It includes information about how to recognize signs of psychological stress, how to tell if someone is suicidal and how to encourage someone to get help.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation conducted a recent survey that found 61% of farmers and farm workers have experienced more stress and mental health challenges in 2021 than 2020.

“New research indicates farmers also have an elevated risk of suicide,” Stallman said. “Many of us can think of suicide events that have happened in the ag community.”

The agrarian imperative, she said, impels farmers to keep their land at all costs.

“This is a study that Dr. (Michael) Rosmann did in 2010 that says the agrarian imperative instills farmers to work incredibly hard, to endure unusual pain and hardship and take uncommon risk,” she said.

Farmers are faced with many stressors such as financial concerns, personal or family concerns, work-related injuries, changes in farm policy, loss of crop or livestock, weather and markets.

“A big issue right now is farm succession with the average age of farmers at 60 years old,” Stallman said. “A lot of farmers are facing who they will leave the farm to.”

This struggle is currently happening in the Stallman family.

“My husband is 72 and we don’t have anybody in our family who is going to take over the family farm,” Stallman said. “That’s a tough spot to be in.”

Together with AgriSafe and Farm Credit Illinois, FFRI has a Nurse Scholar Program.

“It is an opportunity for nurses and nurse practitioners to get 20 hours of continuing education online and on demand,” Stallman said. “With the scholarship, it doesn’t cost the nurses anything and they can learn how to address health and safety issues unique to ag workers and their families.”

Lynn Weis, community health worker for FFRI, is working with youth and adults that work with youth such as 4-H leaders.

“We are the eyes and ears if we think there’s a child in distress,” Weis said.

“During the training, we offer practical intervention because a lot of times people recognize the situation, but aren’t sure what to do,” she said. “This training provides the background for you to have a plan in place and it also provides local and national resources.”

Weis recommends parents, teachers, youth group leaders and first responders take the Youth Mental Health First Aid training.

“The program started in Australia and now it is in 27 countries with 2.5 million people trained in the U.S.,” she said. “The curriculum is peer reviewed and has lots of practical, useful information.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor