This week Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill that aims to improve access to mental health services for farmers and ranchers. Titled the “Seeding Rural Resilience Act,” the bill’s aim is to curb the rising rate of farmer suicides in America.
“Farmers are increasingly feeling the pain of sinking commodity prices, devastating natural disasters and ongoing trade disruptions. That, coupled with the largely solitary nature of farming, has led more and more family farmers to desperation and feelings of hopelessness. This should not be the case,” Grassley said in a statement. “This bill continues important efforts to raise awareness about this issue and provide the assistance necessary to encourage farmers and their families during difficult times.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is 45% higher in rural America than in urban areas. This higher rate stems from a lack of basic mental healthcare services and the perception of needing counseling. Tester said that’s something he’d like to change.
“Rural America has a crisis on its hands – I see it in my community, and I see it in the small communities across Montana. Lack of resources, stalled crop prices, isolation, and the stigma against receiving mental health care have caused more and more farmers to take their own lives,” he said. “This bill is no silver bullet, but it puts us on track towards giving our farmers the resources they need so they can keep doing what they do best – feeding the world.”
The bill would implement a voluntary stress management training program for Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service Employees, provide the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture with $3 million to create a PSA campaign bringing awareness to the issue, and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local and nongovernmental stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.
While Grassley doesn’t anticipate the legislation to face any opposition, there’s no companion bill for it in the House of Representatives.