ST. PAUL — Minnesota farm advocates and crisis counselors have seen a surge in calls as farmers navigate inclement weather, poor commodity prices and ongoing trade wars.
The Department of Agriculture reported that its Farm and Rural Helpline saw an increase in calls last month compared to the month prior and online visits to the web version of the hotline more than tripled between July and October as compared to that timeframe in 2018.
The state has increased its efforts to raise awareness about the resources and the Legislature this year approved funding to add another rural mental health specialist as farmers attempt to ride out a turbulent year.
In October, calls to the state's Farm and Rural Helpline ticked up compared to a month prior, according to call volumes released by the Department of Agriculture on Monday, Nov. 25. Thirteen calls were directed to resources for free financial advice and crisis support. That's up from nine calls ag officials fielded a month prior.
The web version of the hotline also saw a surge in visitors this year. Between July 1 and October 31, 2,186 visits had been recorded, up from 690 visits during that timeframe in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The department doesn't track the number of calls directed to the United Way to help with daily living needs like access to food, heat or child or elder care. And that figure doesn't track the direct calls to Minnesota's pair of rural mental health specialists. Ted Matthews and Monica McConkey offer free counseling to farmers and other Minnesotans from rural areas in crisis.
McConkey said that since she started last month she has taken an average of five calls a day from farmers under stress or from family members, friends or ag industry workers seeking guidance on how to approach people they're worried about.
"I get calls from farmers themselves, I get calls from spouses of farmers, siblings of farmers, I get calls from people who work in the ag industry who have picked up on a warning sign in someone and they just want to know in their meeting what they should say or what they should do," McConkey said. “This harvest has just been a nightmare."
McConkey said friends and family who notice changes in a person's behavior, baseline function or hygiene along with changes in their sleep, eating and alcohol use can indicate increased levels of stress or other mental health conditions. And she recommended that those concerned about someone check-in and ask how they're doing and make themselves available to listen.
She also said a concerned family member or friend could help a farmer get in touch with a pastor, primary care provider, therapist or mental health counselor to help address their stress. Many farmers who call ask if their the only one reaching out, McConkey said, and she lets each one know they're among many seeking help.
"Everybody struggles with something, so it’s not that you’re alone," McConkey said. “Don’t hesitate to call someone. If you think of it as how much you are available to help others, there are people available to help you."
Resources for farmers
Mental health and stress management support
Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline — (833) 600-2670 x 1
Mental Health and Family Services Line — 1-800-FARM-AID
Ted Matthews, rural mental health counselor — 320-266-2390
Monica McConkey, rural mental health counselor — 218-280-7785
Mental Health Minnesota — text "MN" to 741741
If you or a farmer you know is experiencing financial stress, contact the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077 to set up a financial counseling session.
Minnesota Farm Advocates — "Farmers Helping Farmers" - 1-800-967-2474