A farmers-only mental health helpline


If you are having suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting out suicidal thoughts, call 911. For help and resources, call 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Monte Bush was just 15 when his grandfather killed himself on the family farm outside of Riverton, Wyoming. One minute they were working on a pivot irrigator and discussing the cost of a new pump; an hour later, Bush found his grandfather’s body. That summer, he took over as caretaker of the property with his grandmother, ensuring malting barley, pinto beans and alfalfa were harvested on time and managing a flock of 400 sheep. “I never mourned,” he says. “I buried it and got back to work.”

More than 30 years passed before Bush’s trauma and untreated mental health issues erupted. He turned to whiskey for solace and, after a night of drinking near the town of Greybull, took off in his truck and crashed into an oncoming vehicle. He was not wearing a seat belt and his forehead hit the windshield. Doctors later said he was lucky to be alive.

A new hotline seeks to help people like Bush before they reach breaking point. The AgriStress helpline for farmers and ranchers is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with professionals trained to work with members of farming communities. It is managed by AgriSafe, a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce rural health care disparities, and Via Link, a crisis support provider. The hotline, which is also available in Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri and Virginia, is funded by grants from each state’s Department of Agriculture. So far, Wyoming is the only western state to get involved.

The launch comes at a time of renewed focus on mental health resources across the country. The federal crisis number, 988, which accesses networks of local and publicly funded crisis centers, became available to all landline and mobile phone users in mid-July. Mental health is a particularly big issue in Wyoming. The state had the highest per capita suicide rate in the nation in 2020; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its suicide rate is more than double the national average. The Wyoming Suicide Prevention Line only recently received funding for 24/7 coverage, though staffing is still limited.

Farmers and ranchers in need can always call 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. But they can talk to suppliers who don’t understand the unique challenges they face: keeping the ranch in the family, operating on thin financial margins, battling waves of locusts, watching crops wither during drought. “There are so many factors in farming that are beyond their control,” says Tara Haskins, who leads AgriSafe’s mental health programming and helpline. “They cannot control the market. They can’t control the weather. They feel the need to continue working regardless, because when they spend time outdoors, they may equate it to wasted money.

Callers to the AgriStress line will receive a more personalized response. Although the line offers the same suicide prevention services as 988 – ensuring callers are not in physical danger or at risk of imminent self-harm, providing emotional support and coping techniques, directing clients to additional resources – new helpline providers have additional farm resources. training and regional expertise. They know what is locally grown and raised and common stressors.

Clinton Wilson, program director of AgWell, an organization that provides stress management support to farmworkers in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, sees the need for empathic mental health resources specifically designed for farmers and Breeders. “Mental health is relegated lower on the priority list because you have a calf to deliver, you have a row of corn to harvest, or you have weeds to tend to,” he says.

The Wyoming line just started in July, so the Wyoming Department of Agriculture lacks usage statistics. But according to AgriSafe, the Texas and Pennsylvania lines have seen a 10% increase in calls each month since launching earlier this year. Farm labor assistance, crisis de-escalation and financial assistance are the top three reasons for the calls, and AgriSafe hopes pilot states will inform a nationwide rollout eventually. Other Mountain West states, including Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho and Colorado, also have above-average suicide rates.

It often takes a while for people to find or share a hotline number and feel comfortable using it, so call volumes should increase over time. “It was instilled in farmers, ranchers and people working in agriculture that you should be able to do it yourself, you shouldn’t depend on anybody,” Wilson says.

Other mental health lines are relatively underutilized, given the needs. According to Vibrant, the organization that administers the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, the line receives approximately 3.5 million calls a year, a small fraction of the total number of people with mental health and/or addictions, or who have been exposed to potentially traumatic risks. events. Experts say the outcome of a conversation is probably a better indicator of success than overall call volume, even if it’s harder to track. “Did the call potentially save a life?” says Natalie Roy, CEO of AgriSafe. “It’s hard to measure.”

Today, Bush is sober and on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of mental health care, as well as the dangers of drunk driving. “We never talked about mental health,” he says, thinking back to his childhood on the farm. “It was something I was afraid of because my grandfather was depressed, but I didn’t want to seek help.” In small towns, where everyone knows everyone’s vehicle, parking your truck in front of a therapist’s office is not easy. That’s why Bush thinks a hotline like AgriStress could be helpful to rural Wyoming residents. “If they know they can get help, or at least start the process, from the comfort of their own home… keeping that privacy would be hugely beneficial,” he says. “Once you asked [for help]then you can start the journey and work through things.


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