Mental Health Hope & Help - 8

Training Empowers Rural Clergy, Other Community Leaders to Respond to Mental Health Crises

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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The Rev. Jillene Gallatin, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota, is among a growing number of rural clergy who are seeking training on suicide prevention. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Steve Woit)

Editor's Note: Throughout May, DTN/Progressive Farmer's special series "Mental Health Hope & Help" is exploring the unique mental health challenges people in rural America face, highlighting efforts to overcome stigma and looking at ways farmers and ranchers can manage their mental wellness. This is the eighth story in the series.


Preventing suicide is personal to Rev. Jillene Gallatin, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota.

"My mom died by suicide when I was 14," she said.

One year later, Gallatin attempted to take her own life. Now, she's sharing her story to help others who may be struggling emotionally.

"Though loss by suicide has been a part of my story, it hasn't really been something that I've shared or named," Gallatin said. "I felt that when this was coming up again and again, it might be something that I could really champion, so I looked for ways to kind of offer that as a resource."

Gallatin was one of several clergy members in Minnesota and other states who took part in the online LivingWorks Faith training program.

In her community, Gallatin also serves as a member of the Waseca County Suicide Prevention Cohort to identify mental health resources and aid in suicide prevention. That cohort works to help people recognize how to connect those struggling with mental health with the right help resources.

Suicide rates are nearly two times higher in rural areas of the country than in urban centers. At the same time, mental health professionals are scarce in rural America. Nearly two-thirds of all rural counties lack a psychiatrist as farmers face growing stress.

Clergy and other community members are working to fill those gaps, and suicide-prevention training for this group is increasing.

A notable example is the Minnesota departments of agriculture and health, which developed a series of training programs in the Minnesota Community Partners Preventing Suicide Program, targeted for a variety of community members from clergy to youth.

One of those programs was offered for clergy as part of a partnership with LivingWorks, a suicide prevention and intervention training company,….


Glen Bloomstrom, director of faith community engagement at LivingWorks, is a retired ordained Baptist minister who has trained thousands of chaplains and other military personnel at the Pentagon in suicide prevention. He has also instructed members of the agriculture community in Minnesota, from local bankers to Farm Bureau employees.

LivingWorks provides training for anyone who wants to develop skills in responding to mental health crises. So far, the company has trained more than 2 million people using 8,000 trainers worldwide, from Australia to Zambia. The company offers individual training, including a 90-minute online training for about $40 per individual, up to about $150 per enrollment in a program designed for clergy.

Demand is high for the training, Bloomstrom said. It's common to have 100 people on a waiting list.

"Lots of people are talking about how they know people who have died from suicide, Bloomstrom said. "Now it is very prevalent."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2000 and 2020, suicide rates increased 46% in non-metro areas compared to 27.3% in metro areas.

Bloomstrom said the state of Minnesota decided in 2019 that it needed to engage more clergy on the suicide-prevention front. Clergy are a key part of prevention efforts, he added, because they are known even by people who don't go to church.

Training is paying off for hundreds of clergy trained in Minnesota.

"In northern Minnesota, we went through safe-talk training," Bloomstrom said. "They had a suicide in town, and the principal called the youth pastor because he was trained. He was able to access materials, and he coordinated the clergy. It doesn't take everybody and anybody but a few who can be catalysts."

Bloomstrom said it is a complicated grief for people who lose someone to suicide. Family members left behind are 40% more likely to consider taking their own lives, he said.

"We've got to be up front to recognize a lot of stigma around suicide and mental health," Bloomstrom said. "The rural culture is proud, independent and self-sufficient. I'm a guy; I don't want to be weak. We isolate and that's when you think more and more about suicide."

Though clergy make up the majority of community members who people turn to in times of crisis, Bloomstrom said there are many other potential intervenors. Bartenders, personnel at American Legion posts and small local cafeterias all could be important, Bloomstrom said.

Potential help can come from others, too. Agribusiness CHS Inc. sponsored a workshop recently for seed salesmen and fertilizer dealers, for example. The company continues to raise awareness among its employees,….

"We're looking for brave people to care for one another," Bloomstrom said. "Why can't we do that confidently and change the narrative in our rural communities? I think we have people who are concerned and are great listeners. I do think it's skill-based training. Let's go to a training that gives confidence to then use it."


Meg Moynihan, a senior adviser for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, helped create "Down on the Farm," a suicide-prevention training program for Extension and federal agency staff and others,….

The idea for the program grew from Moynihan's own mental health struggles during a chaotic time on her Minnesota organic milk farm. In 2016, she and her husband lost their milk market and were forced to stop milking their 70 cows until they found a new buyer. For six to eight months, the family faced stress beyond anything they had experienced.

The fear of losing her own farming operation changed everything, Moynihan said. At the time, she also worked as an agronomist for the state's organic program.

"That was such an eye-opening experience for me when I came back to the department of agriculture like a shadow of my former self," she said. "I don't think we realize what farmers are up against."

Moynihan said she ended up on antidepressants and was able to work through the rough patch. The experience inspired her to launch the "Down on the Farm" suicide-prevention training program in 2018 with grant money she applied for and received from USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Whitney Place, state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Minnesota, said FSA personnel have trained in the program created by Moynihan. USDA, she said, is looking closely at expanding training opportunities for personnel across the agency.

Additionally, the work done by Moynihan came at a time when USDA officials were having conversations about how to invest in training focused on suicide prevention in rural areas.

The Biden administration has invested money in more suicide-prevention training. In September 2023, USDA awarded $232.2 million in grants for suicide prevention programs.

Place said federal employees are required to do annual suicide-prevention training, as well.

"FSA employees know a lot about different farm operations and kind of where they stand, which is all private information of course," she said.

"I think that they (FSA employees) are people who farmers can trust kind of just because of that component," Place said. "Our loan teams kind of know what their financial situations are. Our program technicians know what the makeup of their farm looks like in their business structure. So, I think they might fill a gap for people to go to who really understand the internal workings of their businesses."

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For more articles in this series:


-- Editors' Notebook: "Take Time for Mental Health,"…


-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 1: "Rural Americans Still Face Mental Health Stigma, Scarcity of Resources, But Outlook Is Improving,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 2: "Farmers Urge Fellow Farmers to Reach Out When Life Overwhelms,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 3: "Obstacles, Solutions Abound in Rural Youth Mental Health,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 4: "Gender Differences Exist in Farmer Emotional Health,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 5: "Be Mindful of a Mother's Mental Health,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 6: "Mental Health Services Sparse But Still Within Reach in Rural Areas,"…

-- Mental Health Hope & Help - 7: "Suicide Prevention Training Teaches Lifesaving Techniques,"…

Additional resources:

For more information and mental health resources, visit our "Spotlight on Rural Mental Health" page at…

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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