Farmers offered mental health support

Published 8:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2022

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Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is working to promote the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ newly launched AgriStress Helpline to provide the state’s farmers with mental health support.

The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has interpretation services for 160 languages. Farmers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak directly with a healthcare professional. Crisis specialists have access to a Virginia-specific database of agricultural and health resources.

“Stress on a farm never ends,” shared Dana Fisher, chair of the VFBF Safety Advisory Committee, which is spearheading the organization’s mental health support efforts. “Stress and mental health issues are always a problem in the agriculture community, and stress can lead to costly mistakes on the job.

“Taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health, but farmers don’t always know who to talk to.”

The AgriStress Helpline offers Virginia farmers a confidential, reliable source for seeing mental health support.

VDACS partnered with AgriSafe on the helpline, which is supported by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. AgriSafe is a national 501(c)(3) organization representing health and safety professionals who strive to reduce health disparities in the agricultural community.

Farm Bureau received a portion of the grant funds,and used part of the money to create 15 billboards promoting the helpline. The billboards are in strategic rural locations throughout the state and were on display through October.

“It’s really hard to find mental health professionals accepting new patients these days,” Fisher noted. “This helpline is available 24/7, and there will be somebody on the end of the line who is familiar with agriculture and the challenges that farmers face. If you just need someone to talk to, this is a resource that’s there to help.”

Farm Bureau also will promote the helpline in late November at its annual convention that draws over 500 farmers and other industry professionals.

Additionally, Farm Bureau is sponsoring a series of workshops to help people who regularly interface with farmers recognize signs of stress and mental health difficulties. Targeted toward co-op workers, farm supply businesses, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and others, the workshops will be held regionally through March 2023.

“The workshops are intended to help farmer-facing workers know the signs and causes of stress and understand where to direct them for help,” Fisher said.

The workshops are being held in conjunction with Virginia Cooperative Extension.