It’s been known for a good while that suicide rates among America’s farmers are lamentably higher than the national average — about 45% higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new investigation by the USA TODAY Network and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has revealed an especially troubling finding on this score.
From 2014 to 2018, the researchers report, more than 450 farmers killed themselves across nine Midwestern states.
That staggering figure underscores the importance of strengthening outreach to rural communities and helping residents understand that it’s absolutely appropriate to seek help for mental health needs, the same as for physical ones.
In the Midlands, mental health hotlines are available for rural residents. In Nebraska, a primary resource is the Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258. The hotline is provided by the Farm Crisis Response Council through Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, with funding in part through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, State Office of Rural Health and Community Service Block Grant funds. In Iowa, the Helpline number is 855-800-1239.
At the federal level, the 2018 farm bill provided increased funding for this need, and Sens. Deb Fischer and Chuck Grassley are co-sponsors of rural mental health legislation by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. The bill would help federal employees who work with farmers and ranchers to better understand signs of mental distress. The bill also would have the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with a range of state and local organizations to address rural mental health needs, and provide $3 million for public service announcements targeted to rural communities.
“We need to end the stigma associated with mental health challenges and ensure that Nebraskans can access the resources they need,” Fischer told The World-Herald. “I support Sen. Tester’s bill to increase mental health resources for ag producers. Additionally, I supported including $10 million in annual funding through 2023 in the 2018 farm bill for mental health resources for ag communities.”
“Our bipartisan bill,” Grassley says, “would empower people who are in a position to identify farmers who need help to get them help.”
These stepped-up efforts to help rural residents deserve strong support.