Karen Stallman holds a folder with ideas to help farmers struggling with mental health stress.
As a program coordinator for the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI), Stallman knows there’s always room for more. The FFRI, which is managed by the SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Development, has grown since its inception with a grant in 2019.
Its toll-free helpline connects farmers across the state with mental health specialists when needed. With a handful of calls a month, issues range from financial strains to conflict and relationship issues on the farm.
“We’re getting positive feedback, but we want to keep it in front of people and let them know it’s available for free and you can remain anonymous,” Stallman said. “If you just need someone to talk to, they’re there.”
Telehealth follow-up sessions with SIU medical advisors are also offered. Up to six individual, couple or group sessions are available at no cost to the farmer or farm family member.
And late last fall, FFRI began offering a free monthly virtual suicide bereavement group overseen by Bonnie Landwehr, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health program supervisor in SIU’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. Medical.
“The number of suicides among the rural population is higher than among the general population,” said Stallman, who farms in southern Illinois with her husband. The idea for the group was sparked after an Illinois farmer died by suicide, and Stallman connected an SIU medical school counselor with the late farmer’s county Farm Bureau. She also heard of a similar bereavement group in Minnesota that was able to connect with grieving farmers and their families.
“I just thought it was something we could do here,” Stallman said. “And we had these discussions and Bonnie was willing to lead this, and she has a strong background in suicide prevention. This is something we thought we’d try to see if it would benefit farm families.
The group started meeting in November and had a few participants; Stallman said they continue to publicize the free offer. For questions or to register, call 217-757-8115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking ahead to the year ahead, Stallman is excited to expand FFRI’s resources by hosting community forums for aging farmers and hosting a rural mental health summit in March.
“We have a lot of things planned. I would like us to connect more with rural religious leaders; that will be a target audience that we will focus on,” Stallman said, adding that they are still exploring ways to connect with farmers, including podcasts and webinars. An upcoming self-care series, “Harvesting for Healthier: Wellness Strategies for Farm Families,” will also launch early this year on the FFRI website.
“We have identified the difficult topics we need to address: coping with loss, grief, depression, alcohol abuse, farm inheritance and divorce and its emotional impact on the farm family said Stallman, referring to the issues the series will focus on.
“I know it’s very hard to admit if you’re struggling or need help because there’s so much stigma with it. But we encourage people to use our resources,” Stallman said, adding that the website is updated frequently. “And we would just encourage people to think of mental health as physical health.
“Farmers are so good at taking care of their land, their equipment and their livestock, but often farmers don’t take care of themselves, and the farmer really is the most important asset on the farm. .”
This story was distributed as a cooperative project between the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and agriculture news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.