URBANA, Ill. – Farm life is stressful. Rural communities face unique mental health risks, but it can be hard to talk about it.

“I’ve heard stories of farmers who would drive three hours to a mental health seminar; not because there wasn’t one closer,” says Courtney Cuthbertson, assistant professor and University of Illinois Extension specialist in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. They  didn't want their neighbors to know.

“Research has shown that stigma around mental health is different in rural communities,” says Cuthbertson, but a new course hopes to improve the resources available to America's farm families. 

A newly released free online course, Rural Resilience: Farm Stress Training. is now available at go.illinois.edu/ruralresilience. The self-paced course can be completed in under three hours.

“The goal is for participants to identify signs and symptoms of stress and suicide, reduce the stigma of needing help, and connect farmers and ranchers with resources that might be able to help,” says Cuthbertson, whose research focuses on mental health and substance use. “There’s a lack of mental health care in rural communities, and this is a way to train people to be a resource and help someone recognize and navigate stressful times.”

On a farm, most pressures are constant and uncontrollable. Machinery breaks; weather delays work; commodity prices fluctuate. The work is isolating and stressful, which puts farmers at risk for chronic stress and can lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts or action.

Prolonged stress also diminishes problem-solving abilities which, on a farm, can lead to injury. Accident and injury rates are higher for farmers than other occupations.

Access to mental health care providers in rural areas is often limited.

“Even if someone wants to get help, it might be difficult to find someone in person,” Cuthbertson says. “Producers may feel more comfortable seeking out help when they know the healthcare provider they are seeing knows about and understands agricultural issues.”

The three-unit course covers managing stress, communicating with farmers, and suicide awareness. The goal is to help rural communities, including farmers, family members, and anyone in the agricultural industry feel confident enough to talk about and manage stress.

The course is available through a partnership between University of Illinois Extension and Michigan State University Extension, with support from Farm Credit, American Farm Bureau Federation, and the National Farmers Union. Cuthbertson developed the course collaboratively with MSU Extension. 

SOURCE: Courtney Cuthbertson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Human Development & Family Studies
WRITEREmily Steele, Media Communication Coordinator, University of Illinois Extension

University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering educational programs to residents of all of Illinois' 102 counties and far beyond. Extension provides practical education you can trust to help people, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills and build a better future. Through its agriculture programs, Illinois Extension supports the economic viability and environmental sustainability of its landscapes. Extension provides field crop, specialty crop, and livestock producers with unbiased, evidence-based information on production and marketing. As evolving conditions require adapted practices, and as critical issues emerge, Extension offers evidence-based information, analysis, and research that producers can use.