BRADFORD — Farming is difficult in the best of times, but combined with the challenges of weather, low commodity prices, corporate-owned farms, personal and family issues, an unpopular trade war and rural isolation, the stress can become unbearable.
With agriculture-related suicide rates among the highest in the nation, the Arukah Institute for Healing is working to provide local farmers with the help they need.
The group hosted a weekend breakfast at the Wright Family Farm on Feb. 23 to introduce themselves to area ag producers and encourage them to seek the help when needed.
“We’re here to ask them what kind of help they’d like to have and then find a way to provide it to them,” Sarah Scruggs, Arukah director of research, said.
Following the breakfast catered by Princeton’s Four-and-Twenty Cafe, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Howard Love spoke to the group of approximately 30 farmers.
“This is a major public health issue, and our silence on it impedes the treatments that can prevent it,” Love told the group.
He said farmers’ strong bonds with their land and their drive to provide helps exacerbate the stress they feel when struggling with challenges they have little to no control over.
The private nature typical of many farmers, along with the isolation of their work and of living in a rural area, create additional barriers.
‘Stop being afraid to talk’
“This cycle has to be broken. We have to stop being afraid to talk. We need to be able to tell those we care about how we feel. You have to find a safe place and someone to talk to,” he said.
Love encouraged farmers who have been dealing with feelings of depression to think back to a time when they didn’t have those feelings, in order to help figure out what changed.
“People are afraid to talk about depression because they assume it means suicide, but that’s not necessarily true. Talking to someone doesn’t mean they’re going to push a button and men in white coats are going to come in and take you away. Sometimes just talking to someone and knowing you’re not alone can help,” he said.
He also shared ways family and friends can help those they care about. He advised to listen non-judgmentally and with empathy and understanding.
A survey provided to guests asked about health insurance coverage, why help isn’t sought, what kind of help they’d prefer, what they’d look for in a counselor, their mental struggles, and causes of stress that included little job control and insecurity; irregular work; occupational or personal conflicts; financial instability; reduced income; and feelings of isolation.
Following Love’s talk, a local farmer shared the struggles with depression and suicide his family had been able to deal with because they’d sought help. He said he didn’t want to seek local help because he was concerned with privacy.
“But, we also don’t need to be driving three hours to get the help we could be getting here at home. We have to learn how to talk to others about our problems,” he said.
Scruggs said the Arukah Institute is applying for a grant from a USDA program funded to help rural areas combat agriculture-related depression. Arukah’s primary areas of service are in Bureau, Putnam, Marshall and Stark counties. Additional areas include Whiteside, Lee, LaSalle and Henry counties.
According to the Arukah Institute’s website, suicide rates in our rural area are twice that of Cook County, the largest and most urban county in the state. Self-inflicted injuries requiring treatment at a hospital, which include suicide attempts, are three times greater in our community than in Cook County. Additionally, in the past two years, the rate of death due to drug overdose in our community is more than 30 percent higher than in Cook County.
Scruggs explained this area has been federally designated as an under-served area for mental health. This means many community members report long wait times to see a counselor or therapist, or they’re not successful in finding one at all.
Arukah is dedicated to finding ways to provide the help needed in the community. In addition to being able to help connect local community members with someone to talk to, the institute also provides a variety of tailored yoga and meditation classes, support groups, counseling and more.
For more information, visit www.arukahinstitute.org or call 815-872-2943.