Mental health takes forefront with Ohio programs

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farmers hands on tool

SALEM, Ohio — Kurt Bohlen began working off his family dairy farm for the first time last year. The writing was on the wall last summer, said Amanda Bohlen, his wife.

“Prices were low. Expenses were as low as we could get them,” she said. “If things didn’t turn around, we’d have to start selling off.”

Kurt Bohlen ran the farm with his father, but it became apparent that he needed to find other work to support the family.

He’s one of many farmers finding themselves in that position, looking for outside work, sometimes for the first time in their lives. They’ve never had to search a job board or answer interview questions, said Amanda Bohlen, who is also an Ohio State University extension agent in Washington County.

“I am trying to convince my husband that he does more things than just milk cows,” she said. “He runs a business. He knows how to do a cost analysis. He examines cows’ nutrition and diet and adjusts feed rations. You do a lot more than you realize you do.”

That’s why the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Agriculture stepped up to connect farmers with needed resources, from workforce development and business planning to stress management and mental health counseling.

go.osu.edu/agcrisis

Gives resources for financial help, workforce development and stress management.

gotyourbackohio.org

Gives resources for managing stress.

Crisis text line

text “4hope” to 741 741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor within 5 minutes.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Call 800-273-8255 for support for yourself or for loved ones or friends.

OSU Extension Offices

Visit or call your local OSU Extension office.

Giving help

The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences created the Rural and Farm Stress Task Force at the end of last year in response to these growing issues farmers were facing, said Dee Jepsen, task force co-chair and state safety leader for Ohio State Extension.

This past year has possibly been worse than ever before between the disastrous weather, low commodity prices and international tariffs, Jepsen said.

“Farmers are eternal optimists. You have a bad year, and you look forward to the next year,” she said.

But when the bad years continue to pile up, it can be hard to know where to turn, Jepsen said.

The goal of the task force is to guide farmers to existing services and information and find out what other resources are needed, Jepsen said.

Ag crisis

People can call their county extension agent for help or visit a webpage was recently launched to house much of that aggregated information: go.osu.edu/agcrisis.

It has information for producers of all kinds, answering questions on prevented plant acres, market facilitation program payments, full manure pits or poor forage quality.

The webpage also has information on how farmers can handle personal stress, financial stress and workforce development, three areas the task force focused on.

It can be hard to ask for help, but the webpage allows people to get all the information they need without stigma, Jepsen said. Resources for managing stress are next to agronomy options, she said.

They’re also encouraging other people in the farming community to get mental health first aid training, Jepsen said, like veterinarians, bankers, 4-H leaders and equipment dealers.

The training helps people recognize signs of stress, depression and other mental health issues and learn how and when to intervene.

Got your back

The Ohio Department of Agriculture on Sept. 3 announced the #gotyourback campaign, a collaborative effort to connect farmers with mental health resources in their areas.

At a press conference at a farm in Hilliard, Ohio, Dorothy Pelanda, state director of agriculture, said studies show the suicide rate among farmers is twice that of the general population.

Lori Criss, director of Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said at the conference that stress can show up in different ways. It’s important to recognize these signs and know that these symptoms are preventable and treatable, she said.

“Sometimes its physical. Sometimes it’s emotionally or mentally. It can be tension in your muscles. It can be irritability. Lack of good rest at night. It can also be sudden outbursts of anger.”

Information on the campaign and resources available can be found at gotyourbackohio.org. The site can help people find how to seek help for themselves or how to help friends or family members who are exhibiting signs of stress.

Criss said there’s a stigma about not feeling mentally well, especially in the farm community.

“The farm community is ruggedly independent. And that’s a real strength often, but sometimes that can be a challenge, too,” she said.

Feeling lost

For people like Kurt Bohlen, working off the farm isn’t just about a career change. It can feel like a loss of identity.

By April, the Bohlen family sold the milk cows off, and he began working for a construction company, Amanda Bohlen said. It was hard summer being away from the farm.

“I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pressure on his shoulders, what he felt by selling his cows,” she said. “He felt he was letting down his family, not only letting down his past generations but letting down his children, because it’d no longer be an option to them.”

Kurt Bohlen got another job just before the school year started as an agriculture education teacher. It’s completely different from anything he’s ever done, but a job he is well-suited for, his wife said.

The family still has heifers and Kurt’s father takes care of things. Kurt Bohlen helps him after work on weekdays and on weekends.

“It’s still farming. It just looks very, very different,” Amanda Bohlen said. “It’s been a big adjustment.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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