Calls for Help Increasing in Rural America

October 22, 2018 01:55 PM
Suicide and Mental health issues are one of the side-effects of a stressful ag economy. A dairy farmer discusses losing a loved one to suicide and Farm Aid says calls for help are increasing.

The ag industry has seen its share of stress in the last five years. Falling farm incomes, lower commodity prices, trade issues and political turmoil all build in the pockets and places in the farm landscape adding strain on relationships and mental health, especially in the dairy industry. 

Kylene Kidd, lives on a dairy farm northeast of Toronto in Canada. She grew up on the operation and recently she and her husband bought the dairy from her parents. 

"I missed the lifestyle and community," says Kidd. "I love that in a hometown everyone has been your neighbor for three or four generations." 

Her husband was not from a dairy farm background and the stress of the work began to impact his health. 

"It was stressful getting a giant mortgage and taking on all of that responsibility," says Kidd. "I did worry about my husband because he came forward with some mental health issues like depression and anxiety." 

Kidd says the couple was trying to work through it. He was in treatment and she thought things were getting better. Two summers ago, in July 2017, her life and the lives of her two children changed forever.  

"The depression ended up being too much and he took his own life last July," says Kidd. "I didn't get any warning that things were bad and in fact, I thought things were improving because he was getting help."  

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently said that suicide is on the rise in the U.S. among almost every age group, and suicide is now a leading cause of death in the U.S. 

The CDC says suicide is one of the few conditions that is getting worse instead of better around the country. It estimates nearly 45,000 Americans have lost their lives to suicide in 2016, and suicide rates have spiked more than 30 percent in half of the states across the country since 1999. 

"In the dairy, industry paychecks have been cut in half," says Jennifer Faye is the current Communications Director at Farm Aid. "In dairy, in particular, these paychecks don't often cover the cost of production." 

Farm Aid was started by Willie Nelson during the mid-1980's.  

"The 1-800-FARM-AID phone number has been operating since 1985 when Farm Aid started during the height of the farm crisis," says Faye. "We find ourselves once again in a farm crisis and those calls to our hotline are increasing." 

Faye says since farmers are earning about half of what they earned in 2013 Farm Aid is getting calls from farmers about loan assistance and even suicide. 

"We are hearing from dairy in particular about paychecks that don't even cover their cost of production," says Faye. "We're hearing from farmers who are really on the edge and concerned they won't be able to hold on to their farm much longer."  

Farm Aid has seen a new trend starting to evolve. They have seen the number of calls for help increase 30% a year each of the last couple of years. Those calls include farmers considering suicide. 

"We are hearing from farmers who are in dire straits," says Faye. "We have the reality that there's a lack of mental health services in rural America." 

They say a recent survey of partner organizations shows the same kinds of increases.  

To hear more about these stories or what the industry can do to help, listen to the full Farm Sense Podcast.  

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