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Farmers Urge Fellow Farmers to Reach Out When Life Overwhelms

By Pamela Smith

Anyone observing Bob Worth at a farm meeting would have a hard time imagining there was a time he could barely force himself to get out of bed. The Lake Benton, Minnesota, farmer is known for his hearty smile and overall enthusiasm.

But Worth will tell you it is a zest born of redemption.

He had just begun farming on his own in the early 1980s when interest rates soared to 21% and the values of commodities and land plummeted. Finances were more than tight. Farm neighbors were being sold out. He had a young family to feed.

"I got super depressed. I didn't care about going to work or taking care of the livestock or harvesting the crop. I was a joyous person who stopped laughing. I didn't want to leave the house," he recalled.

His wife, Gail, recognized something was terribly wrong and urged him to see a doctor. "I don't know where I'd be today if she hadn't encouraged and supported me," he admitted.

"I feel so lucky. A physician's assistant took an intense interest in what I was going through," he said. "It took a couple of different medications and weekly doctor visits for nearly six months, but we finally found the right prescription to turn me around."

SHARING HELPS

Still, it would take several decades before Worth felt comfortable sharing his mental health journey. "I made up my mind if telling what I have been through would help one person, it was important to do it," he said. "Farmers need to know that farm stress is real and something you don't need to take on alone," Worth said. "There's no shame in getting help and if the first person or thing tried doesn't help, keep trying."

That's a message Nathan Brown, who farms near Hillsboro, Ohio, has spent years trying to reinforce. His own struggles with emotional health led him to create a farmer peer group on Facebook. That's created a network of farmer support. But he still sees too many farmers suffering in silence.

Last year when a farmer friend died from suicide, Brown penned a plea out of shear frustration (watch for his letter later in the series). "I don't think we can talk about our emotional challenges in the ag community enough. There's still a stigma associated with seeking help. We still need more professionals familiar with the challenges," said Brown.

Sometimes farmers reach out to Brown to simply ask questions or talk. Others are searching for professional help either because there is none in their area, or they'd rather find that help some distance from home. He knows farmers who drive for hours to seek the therapy that best fits their needs.

Sometimes it is the spouse seeking advice. "The caretakers of those struggling are a group we probably need to pay closer attention to because they can get overlooked and downplay their own needs," Brown said.

WATCH FOR SIGNS

Current commodity prices coupled with rising input prices are haunting reminders of the 1980s farm crisis. Politics and local disputes are easily splayed out over social media these days. Rural areas are struggling with loss of clergy and health care professionals.

Add rural stoicism, stubbornness and even worries over the cost of treatment as other barriers, Worth noted. "We didn't have health insurance when I went through this and, yes, it was an expense. But today I can look back and the cost had I not addressed it would have been incalculable," he said.

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