COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two years ago, Bridget Britton, behavioral health field specialist at the Tuscarawas County Extension office for The Ohio State University, received an email from Cathann Kress, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Kress was reaching out on behalf of a local farmer who was seeking mental health counseling.
“This farmer was looking for therapy, but farmers want to go to someone who is also a farmer, or who at least knows farming,” Britton said. “I called area agencies and would ask if they had counselors that farm on their staff. Everyone said no. I didn’t know what to do.”
This challenge led to the creation of the Farm Stress Certification program. The program educates mental health care providers about farming topics, ranging from basics, like how large an acre is, what crops are grown in Ohio and how weather can impact farming, to more complex issues like why telling a farmer to quit a stressful job will just turn them away.
“They don’t want to quit their jobs,” Britton said. “They want to be able to manage their stress. They want counseling so they don’t have to quit their jobs.”
The certification, which is part of a collaboration with the College of Social Work, counts as continuing education credits for the practitioners. In addition to farming, the three-module course covers stressors unique to rural communities.
“There is a stigma,” Britton said. “Everyone knows your name. Everyone knows where you are going if you go to therapy. So, we have expanded the program to cover not just agricultural issues but rural ones, too.”
The farming community struggles with mental health issues. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, agriculture is one of the most dangerous fields for work. Additionally, white men have some of the highest suicide rates in the United States. Ensuring that farmers have the support they need is key, Britton said.
“Many of these farms are multigenerational. They’re not going to be ones to give up the farm,” she said.
“We talk about suicide warning signs, which can look different in the agricultural community.”
More than 1,000 providers have been trained since the program’s launch in 2022. The popularity of the initial certification has led Britton and her team to create a second, which focuses on topics like urban agriculture, new and beginning farmers, and stressors faced by farmers in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. All the topics come from provider requests, Britton said.
“I think providers didn’t realize this was an underserved population,” she said. “They didn’t realize the lack of understanding they had for the rural and agricultural communities. They didn’t realize there’s almost a language barrier.”
Even providers in urban areas like Columbus and Toledo have taken part in the certification.
“They do telehealth appointments,” Britton said. “They say, ‘We want people to know we offer telehealth. We can serve you. We can be relevant.’”
Britton’s office keeps a running list of providers who are licensed by the state of Ohio and have completed the training and want to be added to the database. Each extension office has a copy of the list.
“People trust their extension office,” Britton said. “Our farmers may go into the office for one thing but now they have access to that list.”
When one farmer goes to counseling, that means another may follow, she said.
“They’re telling their friends, ‘It’s okay to go. Even though we live in a small town, I’m going. It’s okay for you to go.’”
Do you need immediate help? Please call the Ohio CareLine at 1-800-720-9616 The Ohio CareLine, staffed by behavioral health professionals, is a toll-free emotional support call service created by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and administered in community settings.
For the National Suicide & Crisis Prevention Lifeline – call or text 988. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
— Franny Lazarus, Ohio State News