|Rose Jeter (left) and Amy Johnson |
(Roanoke Times photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis)
The initiative was sparked after one of the farmers, Rose Jeter, asked friends on Facebook last year why so many farmers were killing themselves. Though the answers didn't surprise her (stress from unpredictable weather, inability to set your own prices for crops, and financial instability), but she was surprised to receive private messages from farmers who had considered suicide, Casey Fabris reports for The Roanoke Times.
Amy Johnson, a farmer and nurse practitioner whom Jeter knew through Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers, also responded to the post and said she wanted to talk more about the issue. The two women soon decided to raise awareness about it. "They join a growing number of people in the region and state — from academics to farmers to the state’s commissioner of agriculture — looking to shine light on an issue that often remains hidden in the shadows," Fabris reports.
Jeter and Johnson drafted and submitted policies to their local farm bureau chapters that were later adopted at the state level. "The policies voice support for the Farmer and Rancher Stress Assistance Network, in addition to training on farm stress for mental health professionals practicing in rural areas and seeking grants to fund workshops for farmers in crisis that would address mental health and financial restructuring," Fabris reports. "The American Farm Bureau Federation, the national organization, adopted one policy that cites similar goals."
Kim Niewolny, an extension specialist and associate professor at Virginia Tech, is also trying to improve farmer mental health. She and a team focused on farmer health and safety recently got a grant to help farmers who are new or transitioning, military veterans, and in historically underserved populations, Fabris reports.
"Niewolny explained the team’s three-prong approach: workshops and a dinner theater program for farmers, professional development for the educator community and webinars that will help farmers and providers work through decisions, based on real-life scenarios," Fabris reports. "The farm dinner theater is an intervention developed by Deborah Reed, a University of Kentucky professor, who will assist in bringing the program to Virginia. Farmers will be recruited, likely through extension agents who already have relationships in the community, to write and perform a script at a community dinner. It’s a chance for farmers to share their own experiences with farm stress."