MDA brings rural mental health education to professionals of all backgrounds

In response to stressful times for farmers, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will be hosting “Down on the Farm” seminars for anyone who interacts with farmers on a regular basis. The goal is to help professionals of all backgrounds in rural areas recognize mental and emotional distress in the farming community and employ strategies that help farmers in stressful situations.

“People who don’t interact with farmers will find out more about what makes them tick and the potential stresses in their life,” said Meg Moynihan, state programs administrator principal with MDA. “And for people who work with farmers a lot, they will better understand the peer counseling they can offer.”

Beginning in Willmar on Jan. 30, six “Down on the Farm” seminars will be held statewide. To date, Moynihan said more than 450 people have signed up. Backgrounds of attendees vary greatly and include bankers, doctors, clergy and more. The interest has far exceeded Moynihan’s expectations.

“This is the first time we have ever tried this, and we didn’t know if it would sink or swim. I am floored by the reception,” Moynihan said.

Like the attendees, “Down on the Farm” presenters also bring a diverse background to the topic of rural mental health. Mental Health Specialist Ted Matthews brings years of experience working one-on-one with Minnesota farm families. Randy Willis, who is the deputy director for professional development with the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, works with sheriffs statewide on ways to de-escalate emotional crisis situations on the farm. And USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Officer Michelle Page brings experience from the USDA perspective, as well as insight from her own life on the farm.

“For people who work with farmers, you are going to walk away with a better understanding of the multiple conflicts and sources of stress for farmers,” said Moynihan. “People want to be more useful, but worry they don’t know what to do.”

In addition to helping people identify stress and offer peer counseling, Moynihan said each seminar will address how to handle tough conversations with farmers in stressful situations. A banker, as one example, may be required to have difficult dialogue with farmers; the seminar will offer tips on how to do so in a respectful, empathetic manner.

Overall, Moynihan said the goal of “Down on the Farm” is for attendees to walk away with a better understanding of the stresses farmers may be under and how they can make a positive impact in the situation they are in.

“It is difficult to realize how many balls farmers may have up in the air at one time,” Moynihan said. “But by better understanding the culture and what is going on, we can start conversations with farmers in a way that gets them to start talking.”

For the full schedule and to register for a “Down on the Farm” seminar, click here.

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