After learning about the mental health issues many farmers battle and attending the South Dakota Farm & Ranch Stress Summit in 2019, FFA member Kayle Lauck was inspired to create an event of her own. On Feb. 3, 2020, she hosted Let’s Talk: Learn How to Identify Stress & Support Our Producers.
“I’ve realized that farmers are often the first people to lend a hand to someone else in need, but they don’t always extend that same courtesy to themselves,” says Lauck, a junior at McCook Central High School in Salem, S.D., and reporter for the McCook Central FFA. “I wanted to develop something in my community that was aimed at helping farmers combat their stressors while also reducing the stigma around mental health in the agriculture industry.”
Lauck’s event, held at McCook Central Performing Arts Center, featured booths sponsored by regional health system Avera Health, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota State University Extension, along with a meal and presentations from a local farmer and Karl Oehlke, physician assistant with Avera Medical Group University Psychiatry Associates.
Oehlke, a former FFA member who created Avera’s Farm and Rural Stress Hotline, spoke about the signs, symptoms, diagnoses and treatments of mental illnesses that ag producers may encounter, such as major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. He also outlined the ways the Farm and Rural Stress Hotline can help farmers and their families access treatment regimens, which can include counseling, medication or activities devoted to stress reduction.
“Events such as the one Kayle has spearheaded serve multiple purposes in the ag sector,” Oehlke says. “First, to eliminate stigma and show individuals struggling with mental health issues that they are not alone, as many still feel the topic is one that should be kept silent. Second, to educate producers on how to access care they may be interested in but have been afraid to ask for. Last and most important, to try and mitigate self-harm or suicide in the ag profession and increase overall functionality through various levels of treatment.”
All funds raised through Let’s Talk: Learn How to Identify Stress & Support Our Producers, including ticket sales, benefitted the Farm and Rural Stress Hotline. It’s a perk Lauck says was made possible by a variety of sponsorships and donations, as well as a Day of Service Mini-Grant from FFA.
“Organizing this event was part of my SAE project, but it’s so much more than that to me,” Lauck says. “I’m hopeful that these kinds of events will become more common across the nation.”
The Farm and Rural Stress Hotline is free, confidential and available 24-7. To get in touch with a behavioral health expert, call 1-800-691-4336.
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