In 1987, a school principal from Oklahoma was quoted in a New York Times article titled “Rash of Suicides in Oklahoma Shows That the Crisis on the Farm Goes On.” The wife of a farmer, Mona Lee Brock, knew that times were tough during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. She called on her training in social work and began working as a farm crisis counselor. In the article, she said, “We’re bracing ourselves for more [suicides]. Prices are so low, these farmers are not going to have enough money this fall to pay their loans.” More than 30 years later, Mona Lee knows little has changed.
In fact, an article in The Guardian in December 2017 painfully reminded us that the rash of farmer suicides never subsided. Today, farmers continue to face the highest incidence of suicide of any occupation—even higher than veterans returning from combat. That’s made worse by the fact that 60 percent of rural residents live in areas that suffer from mental health professional shortages. And sadly, many farm crisis programs, like the one Mona Lee was part of, have long since lost their funding.
In 2008, a program called the Farmer & Rancher Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) was authorized by the Farm Bill. The FRSAN would have provided grants to extension services and non-profit organizations that offer stress assistance programs to people engaged in farming, ranching and other agriculture-related occupations. But at the time, Congress deemed the cost of the program too high—they never allocated funding to it. In 2018, as a new farm crisis affects farmers across the country, Congress has a chance to do the right thing and increase the mental health resources available to farmers and farmworkers to stem the tide of farmer suicide.
Today, Farm Aid joined National Farmers Union and a coalition of more than 30 farm and rural advocacy organizations in sending a letter to Congress (read it below) to endorse the Farmer & Rancher Stress Assistance Network, which will strengthen resources like farm helplines and websites, community outreach and education, support groups and home delivery of assistance. With net farm income cut in half since 2013, now is the time for Congress to act and provide farmers and agricultural workers a strong network of support.
Making sure that farmers are emotionally healthy is just one step in a process to fully support family farmers. But it’s a critical one, and right now farmers urgently need it as the first step.
If you are a farmer who needs support, please contact our hotline at 1-800-FARM-AID to speak to our farm advocate, Joe.