We'd Like To Mention

It's Time to End the Stigma Surrounding Rural Mental Health

Anthony Greder
By  Anthony Greder , DTN/Progressive Farmer Content Manager
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A green ribbon is an international symbol of mental health awareness. (marigold_88, iStock, Getty Images)

My Uncle Arne was a major part of my childhood and young adult years on the family farm in the Sandhills of north-central Nebraska. An Army veteran and grade-school teacher, Arne taught for more than 35 years in several rural Nebraska schools. During the summer months, he worked on the farm with my dad, grandpa, younger brother and me. I have many fond memories of him, but some of the most vivid include the glint of a gold tooth whenever he flashed his broad smile, his hearty chuckle whenever he found something funny and his playful sense of humor. Behind that seemingly always-upbeat attitude, though, lay a silent struggle -- a battle with mental illness that ultimately claimed his life. In the summer of 2010, just a day before his 79th birthday, Uncle Arne died by suicide.

I'll never forget the flood of emotions I felt when I received the news: shock, disbelief, confusion, sadness, anger. That was followed by nagging questions that haunt me to this day: Why? Why did he choose that path? Why didn't he reach out for help?

Unfortunately, my family and I aren't the only ones who have struggled to find answers to those unanswerable questions. Over the past two decades, suicide rates have been consistently higher in rural America than in urban America, with some estimates putting it at least two times higher.

Suicide isn't the only mental health-related crisis facing rural America, though. According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 7.7 million, or 23%, of nonmetropolitan adults reported having some form of mental illness in 2022.

It's because of these alarming statistics -- and conversations we've had with farmers and ranchers around the country -- that we are devoting this special issue of Progressive Farmer, "Rays of Hope," to addressing the critical issue of rural mental health. It coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month, represented by green ribbons that appear throughout this issue.

Mental health isn't an easy topic to talk about, no matter where you live. It can be especially difficult in rural areas because of the stigma surrounding it. Yet, farmers and ranchers face unique challenges beyond their control causing significant stress that can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Extreme weather events can damage or wipe out entire crops, and injure or kill livestock. Crop and livestock prices can fall to levels that don't cover the cost of production. Government regulations can add extra costs and paperwork to the business. Input costs can soar, eating into hard-earned revenue.

Rural culture teaches us to tough it out during these trying times and to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. That attitude can serve us well when it comes to tackling the daily tasks associated with farming and ranching. But, when it comes to our mental health, and our overall health for that matter, going it alone can have disastrous -- even fatal -- consequences.

Help is available to prevent such tragic endings. Just ask farmers Bob Worth and Nathan Brown, who share their own stories in this issue about how they grappled with their mental health struggles but were able to work through them thanks to professional therapists and community support. For them, it's a sign of strength -- not weakness -- to seek help.

We hope this special issue provides you with useful information on how to maintain your mental wellness, recognize when something is wrong and find the appropriate help when needed. We also hope it helps spur an open, shame-free conversation among farmers and ranchers about this important topic.

As I and many others who have lost loved ones like my Uncle Arne to suicide have sadly learned, staying silent on mental health issues can have devastating consequences. Let's work together to end the stigma surrounding this critical topic and help bring rays of hope to those who are struggling.


-- You may email Anthony at anthony.greder@dtn.com, or reach him on social platform X @AGrederDTN


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