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Blog | March 19, 2018

The bipartisan STRESS Act: Supporting farmers’ mental health

by Jennifer Fahy

Farm Aid is very happy to support a new bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives, the Stemming the Tide of Rural Economic Stress and Suicide (STRESS) Act (H.R. 5259). The STRESS Act seeks to make mental health treatment more available for farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers, who because of the nature of their work and the lack of mental health treatment available, suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide.

“…our farmers have been left to suffer alone in the shadows without the help and care they need and deserve.” ~U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.)

A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The suicide rate for U.S. agricultural workers is nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population. A front page article in The Guardian drove home the reality that farmers have long known: suicide casts a long shadow in agriculture, with the suicide rate spiking during The Farm Crisis in the 1980s. In 1985, Farm Aid’s first grants were to fledgling organizations that operated hotlines to counsel farmers in crisis. In today’s farm economy, Farm Aid’s hotline is once again seeing an uptick in calls from farmers who see suicide as their only option.

Introduced by Representative Tom Emmer (R-Minn), the STRESS Act’s cosponsors include Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), David Young (R-Iowa), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), John Katko (R-N.Y.), John Faso (R-N.Y.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

“Farmers in Minnesota and across America are in the midst of a suicide crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.). “Those who work in agriculture face uniquely high-stress challenges ranging from social isolation to strong dependence on factors outside of their control. Combined with the incredible lack of mental health treatment available, our farmers have been left to suffer alone in the shadows without the help and care they need and deserve. Addressing the shortage of services available with the STRESS Act is a good first step to turn the tide on this crisis.”

The STRESS Act will reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) to give states needed resources to provide mental health services for farmers and ranchers. The program was first authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill but never received funding. Farm Aid and our partners like National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition and Rural Advancement Foundation International USA will work to ensure that this time it does.

If passed, this bill would increase mental health services for farmers and rural residents, which is absolutely critical. As Farm Aid knows well, farmers also need greater access to other resources, such as financial counseling, legal advice, technical assistance, and more. Farm Aid will continue to fund and work with our partners who provide those services and we’ll keep working to highlight the need for additional resources in those areas for farmers. This bill is an important first step in the recognition that family farmers need support to survive in economic downturns like the one currently impacting the farm economy. In 2018, net farm income is predicted to be 53% less than it was in 2013. The time to support family farmers is now.

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