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Agricultural-based mental health hotline extends reach

Farm Aid
Farm Aid
Farm Aid
Farm Aid

According to the CDC, farmers and rural residents are more susceptible to mental health issues, with a higher rate of depression, substance abuse, and completed suicide. An organization aims to curb these figures by expanding its mental health hotline service built for farmers.

Farm Aid was founded in 1985 in response to the 1980s farm crisis by songwriters Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young. The organization continues to offer mental health hotline services designed for farmers 38 years later.

In fact, the organization recently hired Elizabeth Gonzales-Ibarra to further offer their services to the Spanish speaking community. Gonzales-Ibarra is the hotline’s first full-time Spanish speaking hotline operator.

Caitlin Arnold Stephano is a hotline program manager at Farm Aid. She said hiring new staff members has allowed for increased hours of support.

“Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. West Coast time. And our Spanish line operator is available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern. So we have expanded our English hours and then we’ve added our Spanish hours,” said Stephano.

Stephano said once Farm Aid received additional funding, she knew it was time to offer support to all workers on the farm.

“In the last serval years we’ve shifted toward looking at the farm system as a whole, and that means recognizing there’s not only farm owners, there’s also farm employees, farm workers, who are just as integral to our food system and we need to make sure we are supporting them as well,” said Stephano.

Farm Aid provides callers with a listening ear and offers mental health professionals local to the farmer. The organization also offers connections to legal and financial services.

Lori Mercer is a Farm Aid hotline operator. She said it is common for people who work in agriculture to face challenges they have no control over.

“Operating in this realm where essentially you have this mentality that you take care of yourself. You know, you solve your problems. You don’t seek help. You pull yourself up by the bootstraps and that is great, for farming," said Mercer. "That’s what gets you through the long days, that’s what gets you through the tough times, but it makes it very difficult when your facing situations that you really, again, impact a great deal.”

Farm Aid offers waivers for farmers who need assistance paying for mental, legal, or financial services and offers telecommunication appointments for the famer’s convenience.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.