Missouri Flag

It’s been a tough year for farmers in Missouri. Heavy rains delayed spring planting and floods repeatedly inundated croplands. Tornadoes ripped a path of destruction across the state. Areas that were spared Mother Nature’s wrath weathered an economic storm of international trade disputes. Commodity prices remained depressed.

All of the bad news is enough to discourage anyone, but rural people – and farmers in particular – take it all in stride. Or, at least they appear to. Truth be told, a farmer’s stoic demeanor often hides the distress he or she feels inside.

Recently, two agencies of Missouri state government joined forces to raise awareness of mental health issues in rural communities. Through an effort called Show Me Hope, the departments of Agriculture and Mental Health are sending the message that help is available.

Any Missourian dealing with disaster stress or related concerns can call 1-800-985-5990 to connect to a national Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained professionals provide confidential counseling, referrals and other support 24 hours a day and can connect the caller to local resources. Additional resources may also be available through the FEMA assistance helpline at 800-621-3362 or by dialing 211 to reach the United Way.

The emotional challenges of farming are as varied as the physical demands. Unpredictable weather, feed shortages, price swings, and labor issues all increase stress on the farm, as do the challenges of working closely with family members and the constant danger that comes with machinery and livestock. Perhaps more than any other profession, a farmer’s sense of well-being is closely tied to the success of his or her operation. With many farms owned by the same family for a century or more, the fear of losing the land weighs heavy.

But while farmers face particular challenges, the consequences are the same as those experienced by anyone overwhelmed by stress. Anxiety, worry, anger, health issues, excessive alcohol or drug use, difficulty with personal relationships and many other negative outcomes are common when emotional and mental health issues become too much to bear.

Farmers, as well as those around them, need to learn to recognize signs of trouble. Sudden changes in behavior or habits may indicate distress. Has someone you know suddenly changed their appearance or begun to neglect their farm or equipment? Perhaps they’ve stopped coming to the coffee shop or to church. Or maybe they come to church but go out of their way to avoid the banker. Something could be wrong.

The professionals at the Department of Mental Health say it’s important for individuals dealing with mental health challenges to acknowledge their feelings and talk about them. Take care of yourself by eating right, exercising and getting proper sleep. Lean on your social support networks, such as church or family, and surround yourself with nurturing people. Talk about your situation with your primary care physician. Also, many of the Federally Qualified Health Centers that provide free or low-cost medical care in rural areas have mental health professionals on staff.

Farmers have been dealt some bad cards lately. A lot of farmers are hurting, but help is available. Take advantage of the resources available in your community, or reach out to the crisis hotline. You will serve your farm and family better when you heal.

It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2019, I remain your senator throughout the year. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.

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