As Farmers Face Stress, New Hotline Offers Help

Jan 9, 2019

Credit Credit Kealey Bultena file photo

Farmers and ranchers deal with high levels of stress, which often leads to anxiety and depression. That’s why Avera Behavioral Health is offering a new 24-hour Farmers’ Stress Hotline dedicated to serving the state’s farmers and ranchers who want help. 

For more than 40 years, Jim Woster visited farms and appraised livestock for the Sioux Falls Stockyards. In that time he got to know plenty of farmers and ranchers, and he understands the way the business can wear on someone’s mental health.

“But if you’re a farmer and you’re awake at two o’clock in the morning, you’ve got 200 acres of soybeans still in the field, and you don’t have enough money already and it’s raining. That’s a tough load," says Woster. "I mean, to listen to it rain…that’s really hard work.”

Many factors that can predict a farmer’s income for the year fall out of their immediate control—from weather to international trade. Woster says in the last three years, there’s been a 50% drop in net farm incomes.

That financial stress can couple with pressure to "just tough it out," especially on family farms that have weathered multiple generations of financial uncertainty. Walt Bones is a fourth-generation farmer in the Parker area southeast of Sioux Falls.  He says farmers are famously independent, but it’s important to recognize how things change.

“So you can’t say, ‘Well, my grandfather made it through the 30’s, I can do this too,’ or ‘My dad made it through the 80’s and I can do this too.’  The dynamics are totally different,” he explains.

Bones says it’s important to have a resource to go to for help. That’s exactly what psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Stanley says Avera’s hotline will offer. He thinks the hotline could help ag producers feel comfortable coming forward by removing barriers—like a fear that their neighbors will know they’re struggling.  

“So they don’t wanna drive up and park in front of a mental health center or a doctor’s office and everybody’s wondering why they’re there," Dr. Stanley says. "So we needed something that was easily accessible but also very confidential and anonymous.”

Dr. Stanley says the state-wide 800 number is free and staffed by licensed mental health counselors.

Jim Woster says attitudes toward mental health have changed in the last few decades, and that no one is immune to depression.  He says talking about the issue is half the battle—and he’s glad to see this new service offered to farmers and ranchers across the state.