Friday, October 09, 2020

Can Minn. model for helping stressed farmers be replicated?

Ted Matthews talks to a client. (MCIR photo by Thomas Gauvain)
Farmers are among the most likely to die by suicide, compared to other occupations; that includes hundreds in Midwestern states in the past few years. But Minnesota has a program deemed so successful that other states are calling to seek advice on replicating it. At the center of it all is Ted Matthews at the Rural Mental Health Outreach Program, who has been the "go-to counselor for Minnesota farmers for decades," Marissa Plescia reports for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Matthews "takes calls at all hours, including weekends, though he said he’s so passionate for the work that he barely notices the hours he puts in," Plescia reports. "Handling the growing number of farmers who seek counseling as climate change and trade wars uproot their lives requires working around the clock, he said."

Matthews has a matter-of-fact approach that people say they appreciate. After Pam Uhlenkamp separated from her husband earlier this year, she called Matthews right away, Plescia reports. Uhlenkamp remembers that he told her in their first sesssion: "Today sucks. Tomorrow is going to suck. The next three weeks are going to suck."

"He was very honest with me," Uhlenkamp told Plescia. "Sometimes in life you kind of need the two-by-four across the head that says, 'Yep, this is awful and this is the reality'."

The story is part of a yearlong project exploring the ways farmers and farming communities tackle mental health and is supported with a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.

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