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Where does agriculture and mental health meet?

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It is a topic top of mind for those in agriculture: mental health.

Oct. 10 was recognized as World Mental Health Day. Many took social media by storm to show support for those experiencing stress or depression in the industry.

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) recently held a presentation for farmers and farm families at World Dairy Expo. Anna Moffit, NAMI executive director, said one in five people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

“We also know that stress will increase the likelihood that someone will develop a mental illness, and we know that farming is a really stressful job,” Moffit said. “We want to make sure folks know the resources that are out there, what are signs and symptoms, and how to seek help.”

Jake King, NAMI program and outreach coordinator, said it is important for people to understand that mental illness does not discriminate among different demographics and can impact anyone.

“This is a really complex issue,” King said. “We are doing our best to let people know there is hope and there is support, and we are there for any individual.”

Moffit said it can be hard for families and friends of a loved one to take the first step in addressing their concerns. Signs that a farm family may need help include a change in routines – maybe the farmer or farm family stopped attending church or 4-H meetings – an increase in illness or farm accidents, the appearance of the farmstead declines, or the well-being of livestock lessens.

“Where does agriculture and mental illness meet?” King asked. “I think it is really important for ourselves as presenters to explain that there is a relationship there and animals have a role in what that means for support and therapy.”

Although NAMI doesn’t specifically monitor farmers or farm families who call for support, Moffit said she does see a need in rural communities.

“Not only is the job stressful, but we know that a lot of rural areas, there aren’t providers, so people have to travel hours to get a prescriber or to see a therapist,” Moffit said. “That we know is a problem and needs to be addressed.”

In September, the Wisconsin Legislature did vote to spend $200,000 to help farmers living with depression or mental health concerns.

The Wisconsin Farm Center at DATCP promised to use such funds to provide counseling, workshops or other programming. Contact information for the Farm Center can be found at datcp.wi.gov.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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