URBANA, Ill. – Farmers are stewards of the soil, their livestock, and their crops, but caring for the land means they often do not take time to care for themselves. Depression, anxiety, and suicide are more common in agricultural populations than the general public.

With the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., as a backdrop, officials announced Tuesday that Illinois was awarded a $500,000 federal grant that it is investing in mental health initiatives for the agricultural community.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture applied for the grant which will be awarded through University of Illinois Extension and the Southern Illinois University Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development. 

The grant will allow for the expansion of Illinois' efforts as part of the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center through Illinois Extension. This includes providing agricultural literacy training for mental health providers, a voucher program for farmers to access free professional behavioral health services, and expansion of Mental Health first aid program offerings. 

The grant will also provide funding to expand the Farm Family Resource Initiative, led by SIU School of Medicine, from a six-county pilot project in Central Illinois to a statewide program. Funds will increase their farmer assistance telephone helpline, available 24/7 at 1-833-FARM-SOS, to include text and email.

“Farmers, ranchers, and producers give so much of themselves to produce the food that we eat and to be good stewards of the land on which Illinois agriculture thrives,” says Dr. Shelly Nickols Richardson, Illinois Extension Associate Dean and Director. “When mental health concerns affect our farmers, this impacts us all. This grant will provide the resources that our farmers, their families, and communities need to stay in good mental and emotional health as they contribute so much for so many.”

Farmer mental health is an area of interest for Illinois Extension researchers and staff who through an existing network of statewide offices are positioned to help address rural health issues.

With unpredictable weather and markets and dangerous conditions, farming is inherently stressful and the continuing uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have been an added stressor going into harvest season.

“We know that everyone is dealing with COVID-19 and that’s created stressors for farmers so we’re working to put out resources and fact sheets for producers as they navigate the changing situation,” says Dr. Josie Rudolphi, Illinois Extension specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. 

Dr. Courtney Cuthbertson, Extension specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, is excited that the grant will now allow the center to start offering vouchers for agriculture producers to have access to care at no cost to them.

“With the vouchers, people can be linked up to a professional behavioral health counselor – maybe that’s a social worker, a psychologist, a licensed professional counselor – in their area either for in-person services or through telemedicine,” Cuthbertson says.

Cuthbertson will co-host a free webinar about the substance use crisis and services that are available in rural and medically underserved areas in rural Illinois on September 30.

Illinois Extension previously received a $7.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that led to the May 2021 launch of www.FarmStress.org, a comprehensive website that provides the agricultural community with mental health resources and support through the 12-state collaborative North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center. Extension also has the free online course Rural Resilience: Farm Stress Training available at go.illinois.edu/RuralResilience

The grant was provided through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture National Food and Agriculture. Funds are provided to state Departments of Agriculture to connect farmers, ranchers, and others in agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.

SOURCES: Courtney Cuthbertson, Josie Rudolphi, Shelly Nickols-Richardson, Todd Gleason
WRITER: Emily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.