Monday, May 17, 2010

Farmers' crisis hotlines may have to hang it up

Rural crisis hotlines created to assist Midwestern farmers deal with the unique emotional problems that can be associated with agriculture and rural life face an uncertain future as they fight to find funding. Congress created the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network in the 2008 Farm Bill but did not fund it, leaving the existing rural hotlines to find their own funding, Lynda Waddington of the Iowa Independent reports. Now hotlines in at least four states, including one in North Dakota that was created in 1969, face uncertain futures.

"There are no further funds to continue our operations, and the existence of the helpline is very, very tenuous at this point," Charlie Griffin, project director of the Kansas Rural Family Helpline, told Waddington. "The Kansas program, which is one of seven in the Midwest under the umbrella of Iowa-based AgriWellness, offers a statewide hotline staffed by individuals who have specific experience and/or training to help rural residents and agricultural producers through a wide-array of stressful situations," Waddington writes. "It is important to understand that behavioral health problems for people in agriculture come wrapped up with other life problems," Griffin explained. "Most of the time those are financial programs — not always, but much of the time. In many cases there is an agricultural operation that is struggling, and people trying to figure out how to manage debt loads, loan payments or medical expenses. That is a very typical call for us."

"Barring a funding miracle, it now appears extremely likely that the Kansas program will be the first to close its doors," Waddington writes. The program receives two to four calls per day. Even if Congress funds the national network, it likely won't be enough to save the programs in Kansas or North Dakota, Waddington reports, and the entire AgriWellness coalition could face a similar fate if more funding doesn't appear soon. "We are the safety net. Rural suicides, according to some statistics, happen at more than twice the rate of urban suicides," Fran Lyon-Dugin, director of finance and business development at the Minnesota-based Crisis Connection, said. "If there is no one for those in need to call … well, I guess there are local or county health departments or emergency rooms, but, as we know, those are overwhelmed as well. It is really difficult to identify who people would go to if we weren’t here." (Read more)

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