Farmers, Mental Health First Aid Matters

767,000 people throughout our rural communities do not know where to go or who to talk to about the mental health problems they may be experiencing. ( . )

Nearly 1.3 million people living in rural America have thoughts of suicide each year. 

Read that again. 

Nearly 1.3 million people living in rural America feel that taking their own life is the best solution to the problems they are facing. While this statistic is a staggering one, what is even more concerning is that 59% of these people do not seek help from others, according to Mental Health First Aid. 

To put that statistic into perspective, this means 767,000 people throughout our rural communities do not know where to go or who to talk to about the mental health problems they may be experiencing.

“These were just things that you didn’t talk about (in farming communities,)” said Kristin Potterbusch, Director of Special Projects at the National Council for Behavioral Health. “‘Just handle this yourself. Power through this.’ That is what we were told to do in times of need.”

In a recent Dairy Girl Network Webinartitled Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health, Kristin Potterbusch and Tramaine EL-Amin, assistant vice president of the strategic partnership for the National Council for Behavioral Health, spoke on the importance of mental well-being and how to help those facing challenging times. 

Mental health first aid is the initial help offered to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate treatment and support are received or until the crisis is resolved.

If you notice a change in behavior or observe suicidal signswith someone in your family or team, EL-Amin recommends following this Mental Health First Aid Action Plan:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm. When helping a person going through a mental health crisis, it is important to look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury, or other harm. If a person is considering harming themselves, seek help. Do not leave the person alone and call 911. If they are not at risk of endangering their lives, be there to talk with this person and encourage them get the professional help they need.
  • Listen non-judgmentally.Don’t just listen to respond. It may seem simple, but the ability to listen and have a meaningful conversation requires skill and patience. Listening is critical in helping an individual feel respected, accepted, and understood.
  • Give reassurance and information.It is important to recognize that mental illnesses and addictions are real, treatable illnesses from which people can and do recover. When talking to someone you believe may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, approach the conversation with respect and dignity and don’t blame the individual for his or her symptoms.
  • Encourage appropriate professional help.There are many professionals who can offer help when someone is in crisis or may be experiencing the signs and symptoms of a mental illness or addiction. Types of mental health professionals include:
    • Doctors (primary care physicians or psychiatrists)
    • Social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals
    • Certified peer specialists

You can also find numerous online resources on how to prevent suicide from the Center of Disease Control or by calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies. Individuals with mental illness can contribute to their own recovery and wellness through:
    • Exercise
    • Relaxation and meditation
    • Participating in peer support groups
    • Self-help books based on cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Engaging with family, friends, faith, and other social networks

For more on mental health, read: