ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) Commissioner Gary W. Black announced on Oct. 10, the agency’s support of mental health awareness for Georgians working in agriculture, food and hospitality sectors.
The announcement coincided with World Mental Health Day, which is observed annually October 10th to increase awareness of mental health issues around the world, and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. The week also marked the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael, which severely impacted Georgia’s agriculture community and led to widespread losses for farmers in 2018.
“Our efforts to support workers in agriculture, food and hospitality sectors is a critical response to the unique challenges we are all currently facing,” Commissioner Black said. “From devastating hurricanes to this year’s global pandemic, our communities are experiencing unprecedented stressors that can have broad and extensive consequences.”
The GDA began developing mental health resources to share with Georgia’s farming community last year. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) created new challenges for those working in critical infrastructure jobs, including farmers, food service workers and hospitality employees. The project has expanded this year to incorporate a collaborative approach between GDA and the Georgia Departments of Public Health (DPH), and Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), as well as other key local, state and federal partners.
“Farmers, hospitality and service workers have been hit hard by the pandemic and it’s important for them to know there’s a place they can turn to for support. The Georgia COVID-19 Emotional Support Line at 866-899-8938 provides a “listening ear” for anyone who wants to talk about their pandemic-related distress.” said Jeannette David, Mental Health Disaster Coordinator, DBHDD.
A stress survey was recently released to better assess the impacts to food, agriculture, and hospitality workers during the pandemic. The survey was pushed out cross-country, aimed at affording a nationwide overview of impacts during COVID-19. Thirty (30) states participated in the survey. While the survey targeted agriculture, food and hospitality workers, approximately 55 percent of 458 survey respondents selected the “other” category for employment, indicating widespread impacts across communities.
A formal report with expanded survey results is scheduled to be released later this fall. The goal is to provide greater situational awareness and inform recovery and resource priorities for these sectors in the months ahead. The survey was created and distributed through a cooperative effort between industry, state and federal organizations.
“Our final message to anyone experiencing strong feelings related to the stressors and tensions of our current situation is to be mindful of self-care,” said Venessa Sims, GDA Director of Emergency Management, who led the stress survey’s development. “We encourage everyone to reach out to those in your circle and check in, pay attention to cues and provide support to anyone you know who may need it.”
Free bookmarks and business card-sized handouts geared toward agriculture, food service and hospitality sector employees, designed for easy and discreet sharing, are available at http://agr.georgia.gov/disaster-relief.aspx. For immediate assistance, call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line tollfree at 1-800-715-4225 (language assistance available) or visit https://dbhdd.georgia.gov/access-services.
— Julie McPeake, Georgia Department of Agriculture